What FIRST Means to Us
I started my experience in FIRST a long time before I ever realized what I was getting myself into. I had always been interested in science and technology, and still am, but it was programs like FIRST that allowed me to see the potential future I could forge for myself in the field.
It all started when I was in fourth grade. I was involved in 4H back then, and there were plenty of different community activities and “classes” for us to take through our local 4H program. I had done everything from sewing and cooking to bike laws and community service. But the year of my fourth grade, a new 4H leader came and began offering a new class — Robotics. The idea sounded far fetched, like some crazy science fiction novel about alien wars beaten by little children. But how could I resist? I was nine and it was ROBOTICS. Now, it wasn’t necessarily FIRST robotics, but it was my initial exposure to LEGO MINDSTORMS, and I quickly fell into the programming side of it.
Three years later and I learned that my middle school had a LEGO Robotics team being held through the high school. That was the first time I met Mr. Green, my future Robotics teacher, and also the time I started really becoming invested in robotics. I still liked programming, so I programmed all of the different missions our robot had to perform. Our competition went…. okay. To be honest, it was more of a disaster. But that only fueled my little seventh grade fire. I was determined to see what I worked on actually work. I stuck with it until I got to high school, when I joined The RoboVikes.
The summer before high school the RoboVikes held a great little “rookie camp” to introduce all of the new members to what FIRST was and what it meant to be on the team. They had a ton of different stations with different activities to learn about, from welding to building to electronics to design to programming. FIRST quickly became about being involved not only for myself, but also as part of a larger organization. It was about teamwork and meeting challenges. For the rest of the summer, I worked with a couple of other students just learning how to program in C++. It was my first real exposure to industry programming languages, and I can’t believe what I’ve learned since those first days struggling to print “Hello, World!” to a screen.
Since then, I’ve programmed scouting systems (which collect and analyze data about robotics teams at the competitions we attend) for four years, hacking Nintendo DS’s for two of them, writing code from C into C++, creating a custom Nintendo DS Scouting Application Framework (NDSRAF - the R stands for Raguna, the name of the framework), and two years of Android programming, learning Java and writing apps. I’ve also worked in Python for four years, writing database code for our “Chadabase,” including rewriting everything from it’s old pygame platform into the more stable, better functioning, and easier to work with pyTK. It has been a lot of work, but I’m very proud of my accomplishments as part of the community of FIRST.
FIRST, for those interested and passionate enough, is not just a robotics competition, or a chance to learn about engineering. It’s a chance to learn about yourself, to discover what works for you, and what doesn’t. It has given me the opportunity to grow, and to become a better person. It has given me a family that I will never forget, that has helped me along this whole journey.
As written: Joey Lewis, 2015 Alumni and mentor
For me personally, FIRST has molded the things I enjoy into a career opportunity. It began when I was preparing to go to middle school. I was taking a LEGO robotics program over the summer because I enjoyed playing with LEGOs. The program was fun; and we built very simple robots and programmed them by using a very simple interface. At the end of the summer, the robotics team from Vanden came down and demonstrated their robot from that year.
I was amazed as they hung such a large robot from such a small basketball hoop at our school. They explained how everything worked and it seemed extremely complicated at the time. Intrigued, I had to learn more, so I joined the GATE LEGO program at the middle school to continue learning about these amazing robots and eventually I had the opportunity to come to the high school and join in the robotics team. I dove right in.
Build season came and I spent night after night learning about tools, computers, electronics, gear ratios, and so much more. It was amazing to me. In my second year I stepped in to do the electronics for our team with the senior who did it before me graduating. I started to teach others and learn more with every passing month about everything. In my third year, I stepped into the newly created position of Engineering Director. I was given the opportunity to lead all parts of our team. I made sure deadlines were met and ordered parts. I had to make sure everything was going smoothly so we could finish on time.
The competitions from all over the country, the information I‘ve received, the concepts I’ve learned, and just the experience of all that which FIRST provides has shaped my life and has convinced me that I want to become an electrical engineer more than anything else. FIRST is amazing. The spirit of the competition, the speed of the robots, the feelings of accomplishment when those lights flash on, that code compilation, or those wheels and mechanisms work just as you designed them to, is out of this world. It’s beyond the feeling any traditional sport or club can bring because it unites so much: the intense deadlines, friendliness of everyone involved, and the nearly limitless knowledge of the participants and mentors. I want nothing more than to see someone inspired by this technology and this atmosphere, and use that inspiration to change the world and benefit everyone.
As written: Steven Sigley, 2010 Alumni