2020 Difference Makers: Chris Carnell

Chris Carnell
Aaron Eisenhower ~ B Magazine

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When students think of coding, Chris Carnell said he wants them to feel as much a superstar as a star football player walking down the high school hallway.

It's the vision he had for the Youth Coding League: a youth-centered tech education program launched by Codefi that's bringing programming training to rural schools. The life-changing program gives students in low-income and rural areas the opportunity to learn a lifelong and marketable skill, breaking a chain of generational poverty, Carnell said.

The Youth Coding League is provided at no cost to 50 pilot schools, Carnell said, and relies on contributions from donors. He said he's hoping to bring the coding program to a national level, but he still wants to keep a focus on the local students.

It's just one of many programs launched by Carnell, co-founder of Codefi in Cape Girardeau. The business, formed in 2014 with James Stapleton, combines tech and startups to foster the future of Cape Girardeau, Carnell said. It's launched local companies such as the ride-share service CarGO and provides coworking spaces for individuals in the community.

Carnell, who's been fascinated by evolving tech for as long as he can remember, said he's most interested in technology for its capacity for unlimited creativity. He noted that many programmers are very artistic, and can "create something out of nothing," building multimillion- and billion-dollar projects with a skill. Creativity and capacity for local growth are central to Carnell's vision for the community and have heavily influenced his work at Codefi.

While he said the downtown Cape Girardeau business is a for-profit company, these projects aren't profit-minded programs; they're focused on bettering the community through education in a rapidly-changing industry and supplies skills to local employers seeking tech experience. His father, a business owner, handed down a solid work ethic and ability to connect with successful individuals, Carnell said.

He emphasizes that Codefi is looking toward the future of Cape Girardeau and bringing growth to the community. As Carnell has lived and worked in many different settings, from California to Tennessee to his hometown in Scott City, he said it's important to integrate skills such as computer programming and coding in our community.

"I've always believed in candor and authenticity, and I think those two traits aren't appreciated enough and are intimidating," he said. "A lot of the time, we have to face the tough facts."

To create a better community impact, he said it's vital to be open-minded to growth, especially in the local technology industry. For Cape Girardeau to grow, Carnell said it's vital for the community members to be forward-thinking and to learn these tech skills. By starting to talk about ways to improve the community -- even if it's difficult -- Carnell said true, impactful change can occur.

Putting temporary bandages on problems such as lack of technical skills in the area isn't working, he said. Through meaningful education opportunities at Codefi, such as the Youth Coding League and adult programming classes, he has worked toward bringing that education to the Southeast Missouri area.

Carnell enjoys spending time with his wife Lydia and their dogs, including his poodle Luke, which he said is known as a mascot at Codefi. They're also fostering one dog and babysitting another, filling their household with their much-loved canine companions. When they aren't enjoying time with their pets, he said they explore national parks and traveling, in addition to relaxing evenings at home.

Ultimately, Carnell said these programs and resulting community impact wouldn't be possible without the Codefi employees' hard work and support, in addition to generous donations to the tech education programs.