CEO & Co-Founder at Bitwise Industries
Creating Her Own Tech Ecosystem: How Irma Olguin Turned Fresno into a Californian Tech Hub
When you think of tech hubs in California, you wouldn’t necessarily think of Fresno, at least, not until you meet Irma Olguin. Irma Olguin is the CEO and Co-Founder of Bitwise Industries, a community that has developed the Central Valley’s technology ecosystem. Bitwise is making strides to create opportunities and resources for tech to flourish in the historically agricultural area of the Golden State.
Irma Olguin grew up in the Central Valley, a region of California that produces one quarter of the nation’s food supplies. Having grown up in a family that worked primarily in farm labor, Irma didn’t expect to go into technology. While attending the University of Toledo, Irma decided to take a computer science course on a whim. This whim was the start of her pursuit of a degree in computer science and engineering, and later on, the start of changing her life completely.
[As] I realized I was good at [engineering], [it] also came with the knowledge that my life would never be the same… the small girl from a farm town in rural California was going to go on to be a computer engineering and software engineer. [It] was a mind-blowing moment for me.
After graduation, Irma honed her skills by working for various companies around the U.S. Over time, she established a network of professionals, developed a wide range of technical skills, and felt a sense of financial and professional stability that she couldn’t have imagined. Inspired by the ways in which technology changes her life, she decided it was time to go home to help others transform their lives, too.
Technology transformed my life in a way that was really profound for me…I didn’t have to count the change when I was tipping the guy who’s delivering pizza and I didn’t have to count whether I had enough money in my bank account to refill the tank of gas. Missing that hardship from my life started to really affect me emotionally and so I ended up coming back to California believing that the technology industry had the power to change other people’s lives, not just my own.
In 2010, Irma developed 59DaysOfCode, a software development competition to highlight the Valley’s tech talent. 59DaysOfCode gave a voice to upcoming tech talent by providing prospective developers and designers a 59 day competition to build and pitch their ideas. Still hosting its flagship competition today, 59DaysOfCode has evolved into a nonprofit supporting the growth of the technology industry and community in the San Joaquin Valley.
In 2012, Irma co-founded Bitwise, an all-encompassing solution to strengthen the Central Valley’s technological industry by addressing all facets of the tech pipeline. Bitwise aims to create a complete technological ecosystem that focuses on three areas: workforce, infrastructure, and industry. Through the classes offered by their Geekwise Academy, they provide people with the tools and skills to join the tech workforce. With their Bitwise locations throughout the Valley and Hashtag, the coworking space Irma founded, they provide a workspace for developers, designers, and entrepreneurs. Through Bitwise’s custom-software company, Shift3 Technologies, they are able to help clients execute exciting projects while creating career opportunities for their Geekwise alumni.
For Irma, one of the best parts of Bitwise is the culture it has created. Irma is proud to say that she has developed a community at Bitwise that is truly representative of Fresno and is creating a way for a diverse group of people, who don’t always have representation in the field, to be exposed to STEM.
50% female, greater than 50% minority, 20% first generation. Those are the demographics of Fresno County… our demographics of this new technology workforce that’s being created out of our system is reflective of the people who live here… [Bitwise is the type of place where] it doesn’t matter if you have plans to go to MIT, or if you are a farm laborer from rural Central Valley. Come here, see if it’s for you. And if it is, let’s find a way to chart a path to your future success.
Irma is passionate about doing her part to open opportunities for people in tech. She urges us to all empower others by drowning out the naysayers, doing our best and sharing our own stories. For Irma, sharing her story isn’t about empowering only women to pursue tech. It is about empowering all people to pursue tech. The work isn’t done until everyone has a seat at the table.
I just want to acknowledge that in my mind ‘women in tech’ is really ‘marginalized people in tech’… As a culture, as a nation, we still have not quite included everyone and I’d like to see that change. And that starts with me… we get better the more we include.
This story was written by Natalia Gutierrez, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. Connect with her on Linkedin