Like so many businesses, Modesto tech company Datapath saw its world upended when the coronavirus struck in March.
But unlike some other businesses, it sees possibilities for the Central Valley coming out of the pandemic. The homegrown IT solutions and network security firm has been expanding, despite the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, and recently completed $3.1 million in work on its new, larger downtown Modesto headquarters.
Co-founders and Modesto natives David Darmstandler and James Bates started the company together in 2005. Last year they took over the old Warden’s Office Supply headquarters on J Street, with plans to turn it into their own larger, high-tech homebase. The company had previously been operating out of offices on McHenry Avenue.
This month they made the change, moving all of its employees and equipment to the new downtown spot. While most of its staff continue to work at least partially remote, the move is one Darmstandler and Bates hope is the start of more tech companies and tech workers considering the Central Valley, and Modesto in particular.
Even before anyone had heard of COVID-19, the company had hoped its high-profile location in the city’s center would be a catalyst for more firms and employees to look east from Silicon Valley to another more inland valley — ours. The pandemic, which has forced countless workers out of offices to work from home, has hastened that trend, Bates said.
“In many ways it has accelerated our vision for bringing in more tech firms,” Bates said. “People can live in more affordable communities and still do their work.”
Work-from-home could bring more tech jobs to the valley
And it’s not just a pipe dream, by any means. Already major tech companies like Google and Facebook have extended their work-from-home policies until at least next summer. Employees are realizing they can still work at their higher-paying tech jobs while living almost anywhere.
But more than just luring workers here, Bates and Darmstandler said they hope tech companies take a harder look at the valley as well. The men, who have known each other since the third grade and came up through Modesto public schools, said they came back to Modesto after working elsewhere for a reason. Bates said after 10 years of commuting to Oakland for work, he had had enough of missed dinners and soccer games.
To fulfill their vision, they wanted to recreate the modern look and feel of high-tech workplaces in Modesto. Datapath’s new downtown headquarters fill about 14,000-square-feet of the old Warden’s building, more than doubling the size of their previous offices. The company also has satellite locations in Fresno and Irvine, the latter which was acquired over the summer.
The design of their downtown space is sleek and airy, thanks largely to the newly exposed 25-foot original wood-framed ceiling, and its open layout. That includes a glassed-off security hub in the center of the space, with offices ringing its outside. Custom-made desks and chairs were brought in, and the men sweat the details down to the kind of lighting and look of the outlets.
They’ve turned the upstairs, which was office space before, into a spacious lounge area with a TV, seating areas and ping-pong table. Once it’s safe to meet in groups again, they hope to use the space as a community gathering spot and where they can lead workshops and other events.
The 7,000-square-foot corner space at J and 14th streets that was also part of Warden’s remains vacant, and they are hoping to lease it for now with plans for possible expansion into the area well down the road.
True to their local focus, instead of spending some $350,000 to have a video wall installed, the founders held a contest among staff to design the system. The winning entry cost less than $100,000 to create and install, saving them some $250,000.
“We want to see the valley be known not just for its heart, but for its innovation,” Bates said.
Datapath has seen the network security side of its business grow exponentially in the last few years, thanks to its emphasis on school systems. The company currently has the only security operation center and network operation center located in the Central Valley. Once the pandemic is over, the downtown space will be staffed 24-hours, adding more vibrancy and traffic to the area as well.
The firm is also hiring right now. They’re looking to fill some 15 to 20 spots, bringing its staff above 80 members soon. Darmstandler has previously said those local network security jobs can rival Silicon Valley wages, ranging from $75,000 to $100,000 a year.
“We’re putting money behind our words because we want all of downtown to thrive,” Bates said. “Our team members being downtown means they’ll go out to lunch and shop downtown. That helps local merchants and that’s huge for us.”
The pandemic has shown that a lot of work, especially high-paying tech jobs, can be done anywhere. So why not Modesto, instead of places where it costs $3,000-$4,000 a month to rent a one-bedroom apartment? Why not, indeed.