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After Bitwise: Many Employees Need to Enhance Skills to Match Their Old Salaries
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 1 month ago on
June 14, 2024

Workforce Connection is helping former Bitwise employees move on. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

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On a hot Fresno afternoon in the Tower District, a half-dozen former Bitwise Industries employees gathered earlier this month. At an event organized by the Fresno office of Workforce Connection, the colleagues and friends caught up, one year after they lost their jobs.

They shared stories and updates over a taco plate and beverages, moving on with their lives after well-paying jobs vanished.

Bitwise, the Fresno tech/training/real estate company rooted in underdog cities, imploded Memorial Day 2023. Just a week earlier, GV Wire was the first to report cracks in the company’s finances — unpaid property tax bills, followed by problems paying employees.

GV Wire’s David Taub will speak at the Rotary Club of Fresno, Monday at noon, talking about Bitwise.

The co-CEOs of Bitwise — Jake Soberal and Irma Olguin Jr. — called an online meeting of employees, to let them know they would soon be ex-employees. First, a reported 900 were furloughed. They were laid off a short time later.

Since, the Bitwise board of directors fired Soberal and Olguin, filed for bankruptcy, and face several civil lawsuits. The federal government charged Soberal and Olguin one count of fraud each. A 40-plus page report detailed the financial shenanigans the pair engaged in to raise funds for the sinking company.

Soberal and Olguin return to federal court July 18, with a plea deal possible.

One year later, the employees still face the fallout.

Former Employee: Things Seemed Normal

“I didn’t suspect anything. I thought things were going well.”former Bitwise employee Thomas Painter

Thomas Painter started as an apprentice with Bitwise, working on the IT team. He attended Fresno State at the time.

Painter was on a plane from Las Vegas, when Soberal and Olguin called for an all-company meeting Memorial Day 2023.

“They broke the news. And it was really unfortunate,” Painter recalled.

In hindsight, Painter realized the signs of a struggling company were there — instructions to hold on to checks, and changing business banks. But at the time, all things looked normal.

“I didn’t suspect anything. I thought things were going well. On the IT side of things, we were ordering laptops, sending them to new employees. We had regular onboardings … everything was, like, trending upward,” Painter said.

“Our sentiment was … we have faith in Bitwise. And I don’t think anyone would was expecting to get kind of blindsided like that,” Painter said.

Bitwise did pay well, and losing that income hurt. But, Painter said he could absorb the loss better than others.

“There are a lot of couples that worked at Bitwise. So for them, I’m sure the impacts were a lot scarier,” Painter said.

Painter worked in retail, and is considering a career in real estate.

Like Painter, Jenn Guerra started as a Bitwise apprentice, before working on special projects.

“My initial reaction was shock. And what the heck am I going to do? And then got together with some fellow Bitwise people and created a business, Reclaim Technologies,” Guerra said.

Guerra also operates a massage business.

“I feel like I’ve kind of moved on, but I mean, I still think about it too, and I think it’s just because … there’s no closure yet,” Guerra said.

Guerra has attended several of the Soberal/Olguin federal court hearings.

Workforce Connection Helping

Aided by a $2.2 million state grant, Workforce Connection — part of the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board — created several programs to help affected employees adjust to the workplace.

Programs include job training, financial management education, and even mental health services.

Martha Espinosa, Workforce Connection marketing and grants manager, said 82 former Bitwise employees signed up. From that group, 31 found employment, 25 received scholarships for job training, 23 received support services such as office space, interview attire, and other expenses.

“Folks just want to be able to move on to the next chapter, and they know that we’re providing assistance to be able to do so,” Espinosa said. “They just don’t want to dwell on the past. They’d rather just focus on moving on to the next step.”

Workforce Connection also held a job fair last year, focused on former Bitwise employees, at Fresno City Hall.

“A little over 40% of our Bitwise enrollments have pursued training. I think a large part to this was due to the inflated wages they were receiving. Many realize that to get back to that level of income, upskilling will be required,” Espinosa said.

Some have trained for construction, and forestry jobs.

“We’re really excited about being able to connect people to different careers and think of this as an opportunity to have been able to explore a different career path,” Espinosa said.

Painter signed up with Workforce Connection to branch out from his IT training. He mulled their certificate courses, but decided to take a different path.

“It’s on me for not using their resources,” Painter said.

Hard Feelings?

Click here for GV Wire’s coverage of Bitwise.

Painter had mixed feelings about Soberal and Olguin.

“I don’t want to see them in jail,” Painter said, doubting they would be sentenced because of their perceived wealth.

What would he say to them?

“I wish they were more honest, to not only their employees, but the investors. Maybe this wasn’t, like, inevitable. You know, maybe there was something that they could have done to change the course,” Painter said.

Guerra said things are still weird “because there hasn’t been any justice.”

“I don’t hate (Soberal and Olguin), but it just disappointing,” Guerra said.

If Bitwise stuck to tech consulting in Fresno, “maybe things would be different.”

The company, aided by nearly $100 million in venture capital investments, expanded to several other cities including Toledo, Bakersfield, and Oakland.

Justice for Guerra “would be them acknowledging what they did because we haven’t even heard like, hey guys, sorry we did this.”

“What I went through and everyone else went through, 900 families, really is horrible. We don’t think that they should just be let off, like, Oh, well, you just did that in no big deal. There needs to be some kind of retribution to everyone,” Guerra said.

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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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