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Natalya Brinza Project Manager
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Teaching Children to Program Is Not a Challenge Anymore: Interview With Oksana Selendeeva

selendeeva We interviewed a founder at CODDY, a programming school for children, Oksana Selendeeva. We talked about how did the idea of Coddy come up to her, inspiration, and the big regional CODDY network in future. So, feel inspired!

Profile: 

Founder at CODDY school

Runs her own non-profit recruitment network called "Sell Your Head"

Has a University degree from the Chartered Institute of Marketing in London

Is found of surfing.

 

Nice to meet you, Oksana! Thanks for sharing your success story with me. Traditional first question: Who are you? What is your expertise in business?

My name is Oksana and I’m 35. I’ve got a 2-year old daughter, and currently I'm on maternity leave. Before the birth of the child I worked for the largest Russian bank "Sberbank" - there I took responsibility for the marketing activities in Moscow. My overall experience in marketing is more than 10 years. Formerly I was responsible for BTL-marketing at Unicredit Bank, led Mercedes and MasterCard projects at JWT and was engaged in Marketing at Ericsson. Earlier, during the four years I had been working in the team of the largest Russian Telecom operator MTS.

I have three University degrees: two from Russian universities (incl. Master degree from Plekhanov Russian University of Economics), and one - from the Chartered Institute of Marketing in London.

My beautiful daughter Nika is a really nice, smart and calm girl:) My husband is very devoted to his work - as I do to mine. He had lived and worked in London for 7 years, where he graduated from City Business College and got his MBA. He travels a lot on business and he is often away. Last month we only met for 7 hours, at night, when he decided to come to us on the way from one country to another.

I run my own non-profit recruitment network called Sell Your Head (30k members on Facebook and 55k on LinkedIn)

And finally, I run CODDY – a programming school for children.

What made you choose this profession?

Two of my degrees are related to the Finance field and I decided to keep working in this direction in London, so I started preparing for London Business School. I saw myself in another profession in general, I was completely sure that I would work in a global business.

events

During my work in the MTS I got tasks relevant to marketing and events. I realized that this was all "mine". There was a sort of break-point of my mindset. My husband (at that time we were not married yet) observing this process asked me quite straightforward one day: “What do you want to do?”. That's how Ericsson and marketing came into my life. I wish I had made this step a few years earlier but it took me a couple of years to figure out what my path was.

When did the idea of Coddy come to you? What is the mission of the project?

During my maternity leave, I was asking myself the same question again: what I wanted to do? I started thinking about how to run a startup. I began with the research of the area and finally I realized that I wanted to work on the cusp of digital and high-tech, to explore management through the technologies. This issue interested me deeply: our future is closely linked to IT in any respect, and other professions are slowly vanishing.

One of my friends lives in Silicon Valley and runs startups. She really inspired me, I can say, I have “opened all my chakras”. I started brainstorming and researching, I was throwing one startup idea after another, but my friend criticized each of them. When I proposed to make a smart home for dogs, for instance, she said that it was too expensive; I proposed other options - and again they were wrong.

In my group on Facebook I met Dmitry Bilash. He lives in Kiev, where he owns a company associated with the development of artificial intelligence. He told me about his friend - highly paid programmer, who returned to his hometown from the United States, gathered a group of 10 children and began teaching them programming.

I liked the idea so much that I made a decision immediately, and Dima really supported me. I knew nothing about what I should start with, what to do first and whom to address for consultancy or advice. Nobody in Russia had any experience in this area, nobody was engaged in teaching kids programming systematically. And I started to make hundreds of calls, Skype-conferences and Facebook chats with the United States, I published posts on LinkedIn, and I got a lot of support for the idea.

When did you start programming school? Who helped you sharpen the project?

Our first partners were Actis Wunderman and IBS. They knew almost nothing about the project, but they offered to provide us with their office space for trainings.

I got a lot of support from my team. Our first teacher Dmitry Prostov helped me with IT, Ksenia Politova - with business processes and finances, Ekaterina Starostina - with partners relations.

And most importantly - my husband! He was the first who gave me the first “investment” for CODDY. When someone invests in you, you get an additional sense of responsibility. But he did something more important - he believed in me. There were tough moments when I was in despare and thought that nothing was supposed to happen. I worked days and nights without knowing if I get any outcome. My husband always told me that he believed in me and he was ready to help me in every possible way. He also helped me with social links, got in touch with the right people.

But the main thing was his support with the family. I'm with CODDY 7 days a week and 16 hours a day. He took care of the kid and gave me a chance to devote time to work. And that was more valuable than anything else.

What were the first results you achieved?

I think we got the first results immediately after the launch. During the first month CODDY had attended 43 children (in September the number was already 233).

Each person determines what does success mean for him. For me, an important result were my own internal changes that had happened to me already before the start. First, I changed my attitude to the team completely. Suddenly I realized that I had never truly valued people who worked with me - they were my employees supposed to do their job. Now I understand that it is necessary to talk to people and to listen to their opinion, to invest my time in corporate relationships.

Thanks CODDY I also looked at the financial issue with the different angle, started to count money more precisely. When you work in a large company with big budgets, you don’t think about it at all.

Has any promotion campaign been planned? How did you attract both students and tutors?

Our main tools are social networks, word of mouth, PR. We also interact actively with partners. Eventually, we can run advertising - but so far we don't have budgets for this.

We find teachers only with assistance of our friends because it doesn't work any other way. We don't look for tutors but for practicing IT professionals. At the same time they should not be introverts like many people in this area. In general, too many factors have to coincide.

Are there any KPIs to measure Coddy’s success?

  • The number of students.
  • The number of students who continue their education after the completion of one course.
  • The number and variety of courses.

An important measure of success for me is the development of our teachers. For example, Stas Shmakov. He has a young daughter, and I asked him to develop a web programming course for five-year olds. He gathered together his daughter friends and they test this course. As a result, he became the first programming teacher for children 5-6 years old - it's great! Arina Tikhonova has developed the special English-for-Programming course for children - there are no analogues for it in the world! It is a pity that I can not tell you about all 35 teammates, they are all different, but each of them is really cool.

Who are your competitors? What makes Coddy unique from similar startups?

There are only Robotics lessons I can consider as our indirect competitors on Russian market - the idea is pretty good, but it's just a fun and doesn’t give serious practical knowledge.

We use a systematic approach. Each session lasts three hours, we have 30 training levels. In general, we are ready to take the child for three years, and even more, we are constantly launching new programs.

it’s important for us to immerse students into the IT environment: we hold classes at the offices of technology companies, our partners constantly give branded gifts for our students, we often organize special workshops.

What were the challenges you face?

My goal is to create a full-fledged company with limited resources that I can call my heritage. I want to know, that study at CODDY really helps to go to best universities like as a prestigious university degree helps to find a good job. I want to turn CODDY in the landmark, stable, growing company.

I want our students to keep pace with the times, be smart and demanded. We train primarily technology - more than programming. We aim that children understand all the processes from the inside and can competently manage these processes. We have "Startups" and "Design Thinking" courses (our teacher of "Startups", by the way, is a Stanford graduate).

I believe that it’s important to teach design thinking, to know how the product appears. We want our students understand that the programming is only a tool. We recommend that all students take a course of design thinking.

Children’s works amaze, don’t they? What are you most proud of?

All children have really lively imagination without barriers and fears. They are shy at first, and then begin to work actively in the classroom, generate incredible ideas.

I also know that many our children have improved performance at school - it is an occasion to be proud of! By the way, already 35% of our students are girls. They are as successful as boys or even more!

Where do you find inspiration?

The success of the team, relationships between the students, their progress give me the understanding that I'm into something important, something big and very true for the future and for them who are to build this future. That's what motivates me to carry on.

I bring inspiration from my trips. I travel a lot, six times a year at least. The most interesting thing during travel for me is the life of local people. It is the best way to gain new experiences. When you often travel, it gives you the freedom of making decisions and erases barriers. For example, in our business we safely write to the central offices of Facebook or Google with proposals for cooperation - without any hesitation. We know that everything is easier than it sounds, the main thing is to try.

TOP-5 applications you use every day are?

I use a BlackBerry and hence have very few applications :) Perhaps, Facebook Messenger, Mail, LinkedIn, Trello.

How do you wind down?

Sport. I like surfing, skiing, biking, wakeboarding, playing tennis. I tried to run, but that had bored me too fast :). I used to be engaged in professional swimming and horseback riding. By the way, it really helped me in my life, taught to work hard and not to retreat.

Science. It’s ironic, but for me the rest is loading my brain. Before going to bed, I always watch documentaries. I read a lot of non-fiction literature.

What will you be in the world of digital marketing in the next 5 years?

I see it in this way. The big regional network and a lot of CODDY schools. We teach 10,000 children, and maybe even more, but the quality of education not reduced. And every second person knows about CODDY.

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author Kate Sipkina Kate Sipkina
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