Women Of The C-Suite: “Embrace the concept of successful failure” With Christine McDonnell, CEO of Codelicoius

Embrace the concept of successful failure. We have a saying in our company that nothing in computer science ever works the first time…

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Embrace the concept of successful failure. We have a saying in our company that nothing in computer science ever works the first time, sometimes not the 10th time, and sometimes not the 25th time! But being able to learn from each failure is a gift. Startups make hundreds of decisions a day. The ability to create an environment of fail-fast, learn-quick has been a critical factor to our success.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine McDonnell, co-founder and CEO of Codelicoius, a coding curriculum software, which was founded in 2016. For 16 years prior, she was a founder and managing partner for McDonnell & Associates, a strategic management consulting firm.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path? 

I was coaching my son’s VEX robotics team and the team had won a spot to compete at VEX Worlds Championships. At that event these middle school students were treated like rock stars! They were proud of the technology they had built, they were celebrated for the skills they had learned, and they felt connected and empowered by the computer science community. I came away from that event wanting to help more elementary and middle school students feel that way.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? 

One of the most exciting moments has been seeing Codelicious curriculum taught in the classroom. This particular educator had not been exposed to computer science before, but was passionate about bringing computer science to his 3rd grade students. I was able to observe his classroom after he had been teaching Codelicious curriculum for about a month. His confidence in being able to effectively teach Codelicious curriculum was fantastic! And his students were so engaged with the Codelicious projects. The educator allowed his students to work on Codelicious challenge projects after they finished their math and science homework — the rate of completion of math and science homework skyrocketed! That is when you know you have a good product.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that? There are so many laughable moments when looked at in the rear-view mirror. Most are just crazy get-it-over-the-goal-line stories. One of the funniest ones dates back to when we would work out of a tiny coffee shop at a local mall. We were trying to get our payment portal up and running because we had announced we would be ready to take payment the very next day. None of us had experience in setting up a payment portal and the WiFi at the coffee shop kept going out. It was just a comedy of trials and errors. When we got the portal up and running we bought a round of coffee for all at the shop! It was a true lesson in perseverance, leveraging the strengths of our team, and not letting the setbacks get us down.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story? 

We are making a difference. One of our clients is a 3rd grade educator who have never been exposed to computer science before teaching a Codelicious course. He just had a passion to bring computer science to his students. Not only was he able to confidently instruct his students utilizing Codelicious course curriculum, but his students became excited about computer science. One of the students candidly admitted that initially,she thought computer science was going to be boring. The same student quickly added that once she saw how much fun computer science could be, she would like to have more computer science classes!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people? 

We are beginning to scale the Codelicious model for offering computer science curriculum nationwide. We have already landed our first out-of-state contract and are rapidly building on that momentum. This provides a pathway for Codelcious to continue to remove barriers and increase access to teaching and learning computer science. Building these foundational skills at an early age will help these students better prepare for the 21st century workforce.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive? 

Embrace the concept of successful failure. We have a saying in our company that nothing in computer science ever works the first time, sometimes not the 10th time, and sometimes not the 25th time! But being able to learn from each failure is a gift. Startups make hundreds of decisions a day. The ability to create an environment of fail-fast, learn-quick has been a critical factor to our success.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team? 

Having clearly defined roles and responsibilities has helped in both providing guidance and autonomy to team members. Team members are empowered to drive their processes and overcome obstacles. We also exercise frequent ‘stand-ups’ where team members check in on what’s working well, what’s not working well, and the obstacles need to be overcome.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

 I have had many strong mentors that I have leaned upon for advice and support. I think my dad was a feminist before his time. He never let me use any setback as an excuse to quit. He always encouraged me to proceed as if success were inevitable. Those are great words to live by!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? 

At Codelicious, giving back to the community is ingrained into our culture. We recently supported an event called The Eureka! Exchange as part of the LPGA Indy Women in Tech Championship. Over 1,000 middle school students were able to participate in STEM experiences during the 3-day event; Codelicious provided a coding station where students learned about loops while coding a game. It is exciting to see the ‘ah-ha’ moments through the eyes of these students!

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Love what you do. You will spend many, many, many hours working in and on your business. Be sure it is something you are passionate about.
  2. Leverage your network. Your network is your strongest asset. Continuously build your network and have the confidence to leverage for support.
  3. Surround yourself with people smarter than you. Know your own strengths and weaknesses, and engage with people who know more than you do.
  4. Embrace the concept of successful failure. Einstein said, ‘Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new’. Mistakes essential to growth.
  5. Don’t sweat the small stuff. You will make hundreds of decisions each day. Delegate what can be delegated. Take the time to be thoughtful about the impactful ones.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

 Be kind.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? 

Be your most authentic self. Don’t try to be what others expect of you. You are best at being yourself.

How can our readers follow you on social media? 


Thank you so much for these inspiring insights!

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