From Silicon Valley to Heilbronn
He has achieved what thousands of people dream of – a career in Silicon Valley! Thomas Bornheim was a Google employee for 14 years, in countries all over the world. Now Thomas Bornheim is back in Germany, in a new capacity: He is the managing director of Codingschule 42 in Heilbronn, where students can learn programming. Find out what his time at Google was like, why he moved from Silicon Valley to Heilbronn, and what digital trends he sees for the future in this article.
mmmake: Over the last 15 years, you’ve always been part of the digital evolution, experiencing it firsthand in Silicon Valley at Google, among other places. How was that?
Thomas: At some point after my studies, a job offer from Google came flying in – I was supposed to help set up the site in Dublin. That’s when I was really excited: to go to the company that I thought was extremely cool back then, too. At that time, Google was also one of the first companies to convey this new message : Come here, have fun. It’s also about you, we want you to learn – that didn’t exist at all in the jobs I’ve done in Germany since then. I was incredibly happy that this worked out. I’ve also been on assignment in India or Japan and then worked for Google in California. Google has always been more to me and that’s what you guys are building at mmmake, an identity where it’s just a little bit more than just going to work. I see some parallels there.
mmmake: So how did you end up in Heilbronn?
Thomas: I don’t know who knows this: You’re in a job and you want to achieve something and then you realize that you’re not getting anywhere. I had been doing educational projects at Google Search and strategically driving that we engage with learning needs and not just provide this atomic, search term follows answer, but also become a little bit more personalized, providing people with a developmental and educational idea. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in anyone’s interest, it would have been too much work and it was way too new thinking. That made me totally unhappy. So I set out to find other ways to do something with technology and combine that with the background I have. When the offer from 42 came flying in to be principal there, I took a look at it on the Internet and said yes. It’s a super cool job and mega fun. We have over 200 students. I’m really proud of what we’ve built up there and I’m delighted to be here.
mmmake: You have been part of the 42 since 2020 and have witnessed a lot in this course. What has been your highlight so far and what does the 42 stand for?
Thomas: We offer an alternative learning model at 42. We want to provide an innovative and safe place for students and are focused on training the programmers of the future. I have a moment there every morning when I see the students sitting together in front of the computers. That moment when someone is there pointing their finger at the code and they’re looking at the code together and doing code reviews – that’s when I see people learning and touching the code, they’re moving forward. This learning moment is an incredibly inspiring feeling for me.
mmmake: This learning effect is also something that you do with mmmake as part of our cooperation. Students come to us and there is a mentoring and mentoring program. How important are such collaborations when you pursue the agile approach that you live by?
Thomas: Super important. Many of those who are with us have little professional experience, and that’s where we want to convey what the working life of a programmer is like. I think it’s important to get out and experience what that looks like in the real world. I hope for a good mix of focused and joint learning at 42 and real practice at mmmake, where people really have what it takes. After all, these are the ones who can explain much better than any professor or lecturer. This is great for the students.
mmmake: Let’s move on to digital trends. What do you think about the current digital trends?
Thomas: So I’m not interested in the blockchain and NFTs at all. I think that people just want to enrich themselves and find it cool to make their 10 million without working. I’m not interested in the millions and I don’t find not working the most exciting thing either. I want to move things, learn things. And that is, I think, a little bit of what I can do. I find learning software like Duolingo or 42 quite nice.
I also find apps totally boring. The thing that interests me is greatsources of information. Or when building an app like this, to consider what data model it needs and how to achieve that? So solutions. I find that quite exciting. But I’m not particularly interested in the problem areas that are currently being dealt with.
I actually think a lot of the digital trends aren’t really working for me. But I don’t think it’s because of the trends. I think it’s because I’m getting a little old or some things just don’t interest me like they used to.
With Google, I did that a lot. That’s when I dove deep into digital trends to explore strategic product areas. But I’ve become progressively less interested in it because I’ve seen few new, exciting digital trends. What fascinated me about Google at the time was that they were using technology to really expand brains and knowledge, to make this learned knowledge obsolete, to make it a little more accessible.
mmmake: What would be a digital trend or solution in the future that would grab you?
Thomas: What I think is really cool is actually when we look at our planet. We’re riding this thing pretty deep into the mess and there’s little hope that we can somehow fix it ourselves. I think a dashboard like that for the world, that would be quite a good story. It is high time that we do something for our planet with Open Data with sustainability projects. For example, Climatiq.io, a start-up from Berlin that helps companies and cities record CO2 emissions in order to draw important conclusions for sustainability. Or the sensors that you can use to determine the health of ecosystems, that’s what I’m interested in. One of my side projects in Silicon Valley was to develop sensors to measure how different hives are doing, because it’s a relatively good way to tell how healthy an ecosystem is. I am interested in this combination of nature and technology to get planetary into better waters. In the city ranking, we are in last place in Heilbronn with 0 points. Hopefully, we’ll change that quickly.
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