Joachim Horn, CEO at SAM Labs

In our regular series, high fliers remember where they took off


Hi, Joachim! Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Jo and I’m CEO at SAM Labs. We teach coding, science and engineering to students in 6,500 schools globally.

What was your #MyFirstMcJob?

A car mechanic, the summer after graduating high school in Brussels, before university

How did you get the job?

The garage was where my mum and my dad took their car, so they were friendly with the owner. I was about to study engineering and I wanted to get some hands-on experience. I’d always been curious around the shop and asked if I could work over the summer.

What did you have to do?

Everything from sweeping the floor to changing tyres, servicing the cars, changing the oil and the basic stuff I could do my own. I’d also help replace parts. By the end of the day, the grease would have really seeped into your hand, so you had to use this special soap. The last five minutes of the day were spent washing your hands.

How useful was the experience when you went on to study engineering?

What I studied was much more theoretical, made all the harder because my first language is French and all the lectures were in English! But I think the mindset really helped me. It’s all very well theoretically developing products on the computer, but you also have to think about the person who needs to service or repair it. They need to have easy access to the inside of whatever you’ve built.

What skills did you learn that you still use now?

Having a rolled-up sleeve attitude and understanding how things fit together. There’s a lot of things that need to work together to make a car work. Understanding the coordination is vital for the end product. I also used to be quite shy but working in a garage is very friendly: you say hi to every colleague, look them in the eyes and shake their hands. So it gave me a lot of people confidence.

Why is alumni so important to you?

Work is continuous teamwork, so it’s always a huge asset to be able to pick up areas of expertise and comfort from colleagues as you progress in your career. Shared experiences mean that you understand and trust each other, so you can work faster together. It’s always useful to speak to people from the past, because they remind you of a time of your life and can help you understand the distance you’ve covered and the ways you’ve changed. It’s a great way to self-reflect and be self-aware.

What would happen if you tried to do your old job today?

I’d probably enjoy it more, and would put some music in my ears as I learn more about how cars work! It would be nice to be able to focus on something concrete. My work is quite theoretical, behind a desk.

If you could do back in time, what advice would you give yourself?

I was 17-years-old, so I would remind myself to just enjoy the process and not to worry so much about what other people are doing and wondering if you’d be happy doing something else.





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