Elaine Queathem

I recommend focusing on your customer, gaining their feedback and adjusting to serve them in the proper manner.


Elaine Queathem is the founder of Savvy Coders. She has been involved with technology for her entire professional career. In 2009 she was working for a small software technology company and became acutely aware of the shortage of qualified programming resources which were essential for a small company to grow and thrive. Now, several years later, she helps people develop those important and sought after skills. Her firm, Savvy Coders, has a passion for teaching technology skills to underserved communities. Offering coding and programming training in St. Louis, Nashville and Chattanooga, Savvy Coders believes that knowing how to code is more than just a cool hobby; it is an essential skill for the 21st century that can revitalize communities and bring more people into the modern workforce. It is their mission to teach the basics of web design and programming to anyone with a desire to learn no matter their income or skill level. Elaine received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri – St. Louis and her MBA from Webster University. When not running Savvy Coders, Elaine is an Entrepreneur in Residence for ITEN, a nonprofit that is a catalyst for tech startups.

Where did the idea for Savvy Coders come from?

I was working for a software company and couldn’t find developers in our local market. It was a challenge to find skilled professionals in the Midwest. Not many had a decent understanding of Javascript and other programming languages. Training was limited in the area and most who offered boot camps for programming skills paid little attention to those in the inner city and underserved communities, even though many had the potential to be excellent tech employees. I decided, that when the time was right, to do something about this. The time came when I could start my own training and programming classes. I called them Savvy Coders. It started in St. Louis and we now offer the training in Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee as well.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

It has definitely been more productive since we started several years ago. Early on I spent most of my time recruiting students, and endless hours of networking, trying to educate people on what we were all about. Now I am able to spend more focused time on sales and operations. Most of my time is used to publicize our next rounds of classes and connecting with strategic partners to help us expand our business.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Much like other entrepreneurs I am a big believer in “trial and error”, that is don’t be afraid to try something new and fail. You will never know if an idea can work unless you put it to the test. If a member of our team has a good idea for a class, or just a change in how we do things, in most cases we will try it out and see if it works. We have brought many good ideas to life this way.

What’s one trend that excites you?

There is a trend for cities to be more mindful and energy efficient through the Smart Cities initiative. This name has been bandied about before but many municipalities are now making the effort to use technology and share resources to improve community government and improve the lives of their citizens. It is exciting to watch how this will evolve as we move forward.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I do a lot of strategic networking and then I make it a rule to follow-up with what was discussed. I don’t make promises and then let them die due to inactivity. If I make a commitment to do something, I will get it done.

What advice would you give your younger self?

My advice would be not to be so naïve and mistakenly trust everyone that acts like they want to help you. Many have their own agendas and a few business deals I got involved in ending up going south. I learned you have to be very selective with people you affiliate with, something I wish I would have realized early on.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The end of college as we know it. I don’t believe enrolling in a four year university is any longer the recipe for educating most of our young people. Many students go into great debt to get a degree. They get stuck not being able to afford a home. Much of their education does not even apply to whatever career they end up pursuing. We need to educate people differently and I see a paradigm shift coming soon.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I recommend focusing on your customer, gaining their feedback and adjusting to serve them in the proper manner. Many companies are good at supplying lip service but fail to actually respond to the true needs of their customers. You must listen to the clients you serve, get their feedback, and act upon it in order to improve and grow your business. This is something I do on a daily basis.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Contracting with experienced marketing and public relations professionals is a strategy that has really helped us grow our firm. These are disciplines I am not skilled in but have been happy to compensate those who can grow our business. Developing a good website, for example, can really help your business grow and is well worth the money in the long run.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I was an entrepreneur when the bubble burst during the recession. Things were tough and I wasn’t sure anyone was going to survive this. I left the industry I was in and reinvented myself as a salesperson. Then I got into software development. It has worked out extremely well.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A good business idea would be to create a company to assist cities and metropolitan areas in “getting smarter”. As I mentioned earlier, Smart Cities is a trend gaining steam and I believe consultants and others who can assist in this process stand a good chance of being very successful.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

It wasn’t exactly $100 but I brought in an expert to do a two hour class to help our graduates improve their resumes and job offerings. We focused more on the key words employers are seeking. It was extremely worthwhile and has worked well.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Slack is a great tool. It helps us stay in touch with current and past students. It’s more efficient than email. It lets students communicate and even exchange documents. All of our students are using it.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Rise of Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future” by Martin Ford. It provides a reasonable and believable look at what’s happening in business now and what is going to happen in the future. It talks about the disappearance of the middle class and how many of today’s jobs, both blue and white collar, will eventually fade away due to new technology. It’s a good look how the
future of technology will impact our lives.

What is your favorite quote?

-“When Sleeping Women Wake, Mountains Move“. It is an old Chinese Proverb.

Key learnings:

•Pay attention to what is going on in your industry, business or community. When you see a problem look to create a solution whether you can do it internally or even by starting your own firm.

•Listen to your customers, respond to their feedback, and take real action to help your business grow.

•Follow through quickly after any key business meeting with a potential strategic partner.

•Look beyond email for communications tools and employ those which best help to maintain contact with your clients.

•Read Rise of Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future to understand what life could be like for you and your children in the not too distant future.


Elaine Queathem on Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/elainequeathem
Savvy Coders on Facebook: facebook.com/SavvyCodersStlouis