Best Jobs/Careers/Industries to find Specific Mentors

A question for the collective mind here, what kind of companies, jobs or industries would you approach if looking for a mentor with a specific skillset?

Recruiting mentors in the past for me has largely come from either coincidence (right time/place with someone happening to hear me talking about this awesome program), or aspiring mentors reaching out in search of a team to help out on. This has worked out well enough over the years (a large part of that I would contribute to sheer luck), but doesn’t always result in complete coverage of all the different focuses FRC teams have and need.

So for both myself and those reading who are also seeking out specific skilled mentors, where would you start looking for help in each of the following roles? I’ve added in some areas that I’d look based on my own knowledge and experience.

  • CAD (local engineering firms and fab shops, mechanical engineers, robotics + automation related business)
  • Manufacturing (various fab shops, such as sheet metal or carpentry, millwrights, CNC machinists)
  • FRC Robot Programming
  • Controls Theory, ie tuning PID loops and other “complex” control loops
  • Fundraising/Seeking sponsorship
  • Outreach
  • Awards writing

Would love to hear peoples thoughts on this, and please feel free to add to the list; I’m sure I’ve likely left out an area of expertise or two.

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My sense is that 90% of mentors are Teachers, Parents, Alumni, or from companies that have a major presence at FRC and encourage their workers to be involved like Boeing, Haas, NASA, etc.

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The question is: if someone is to find a particular mentor type, what industry?

And you’d likely be incorrect without adding “FRC alumni” into your list. My team, fully half the mentor core is alums.

For the programming/controls theory, industrial automation companies would be a prime target.

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The original post actually smells of an XY problem to me.

This is the real problem - not all needs are met.

This is only one solution amongst many to the problem.

These are specific aspects of solving the problem of “doing a good FRC season”. Admittedly, the people best positioned to walk in and know how to solve these are indeed current students or alumni. If you find someone who can directly solve it, it’s good to bring them in… however, rarely easy to find.

In general, you bring in someone with relevant background, but no specific experience in the problem to be solved. You onboard them, introduce the problem, and turn them loose on it.

As far as actually recruiting mentors: I personally think the best mentors aren’t the people who already know things, but rather those who can model a learning process well to students.

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FRC is hard but there are a TON of resources other there and many friendly teams that would be happy to help someone that reached out to them. So, unless you are planning on creating a product that will upend how FRC is played (i.e. make andymark/REV/SDS/KauaiLabs 2.0), the best mentors you can find are ones that are willing to learn from others and mentor teenagers.

I say this, as to me the goal of FIRST/FRC is to inspire students not build groundbreaking robots. So, I would much rather have someone with no technical background who has the patience to work with students and the willingness to research topics the team needs to develop, than someone with 30 year industry experience who can’t tolerate working with inexperienced people nor is willing to look at other people’s ideas.

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Calculus instructors, and physics instructors. They teach control theory to students in such a simple way, its honestly incredible.

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Completely separate from industry/job, the teams I’ve been on have had the most success with either parents, alumni, or friends/relatives of another mentor who are looking for a hobby, since all of these people have a personal connection that makes them want to show up a lot. If they have been involved, they know someone involved, or their kid is involved, they’re more invested.

Usually these people have either some level of STEM experience or are otherwise good at guiding students / getting things done.

For gaps in talent/ability, we’ve had better success growing it ourselves than targeted recruitment, and every now and then you get lucky with a good alumni transplant or an extremely talented parent/relative/friend.

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Hi Brian. I wonder the same thing.

Along the lines of what @EricH said, one of the best matches for the skillset we’re looking for is Control System Integration and Automation/Machine Building companies (aka Industrial Automation). These are companies that design, build and program custom automation machines on a day-to-day basis. These companies do sponsor FRC teams, and sometimes donate some manufacturing or design work.

Unfortunately you’re going to find it very difficult to recruit mentors who work at those companies. I spent 10 years working at control system integrators, and I still know many individuals in those fields, and the nature of the projects they take on at work are often incompatible with a hobby like FRC. The job often requires long hours (60 to 70) for many weeks followed by weeks or sometimes even months away from home commissioning systems onsite. While employees do occasionally have slow times, these aren’t at predictable times during the year. You also have a lot of time that you’re “on call” and need to be able to drop what you’re doing and go to a customer site on short notice.

I’m not saying you won’t find anyone like this, just that my experience is that very few will have any bandwidth left over for things like FRC.

I think @Ben_Martin is right. If you’re lucky enough to find someone from any industry who can commit to the hours, it might be easier for that person to grow into what your team needs.

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I guess you’d want to find someone that changed careers from those jobs to have fewer hours or travel. So the question for you would be what sort of jobs are people leaving that area ending up in? Maybe you have some insight. Then looking into those roles to find someone with both the experience but also the work schedule that allows them to mentor.

edit: Several years back a local mentor told us of his idea, which was to target retired people. That they more likely have time, the desire to pass on to next generation, and maybe some professional experience that you wouldn’t able to get easily otherwise. It was on his list of ideas for their team if he had more time himself to follow up on it.

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I forget which major CD user said approximately this :

90% of building a competitive FRC robot is FRC knowledge, 10% is industry knowledge.

It’s not going to be easy to snag a mentor from industry to fill a hole in knowledge to be much more competitive, there is a pretty good divide between the FRC way and the industry way. (This extends to team operations and logistics as well)

Now, a good all rounder mentor from outside FRC? Someone with experience in multiple trades seems to me to be a good option. I.e. general carpentry and electrical, or welding and structural engineering, grant writing and finance, etc. In modern FRC there is a lot of integration of COTS vs from scratch in house, so someone with experience in multiple parts of a system would likely pick up the FRC way rather quickly.

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Speaking as one of these folks - I think you could have a lot of success in these areas finding FRC alums who didn’t end up in engineering but who still loved their FIRST experience.

I’d wager at least 25-30% of FRC alums (if not more tbh) end up in fields outside engineering - they are largely an untapped mentoring demographic because the usual thought-process is that “only engineers” would mentor/be helpful.

Speaking only as myself, it can be difficult to feel like my skill sets (creative writing, public relations, etc) would be adding something to a fundamentally STEM-focused activity, but I can say having mentored for some years now, FRC needs more liberal arts folks in the mix, especially those who can effectively tell the FRC story like alums can.

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A few of the “main characters” around here have been ringing alarm bells for years about FRC being largely an information war. Some of these references are funny, other infuriating, but all go to the point that FRC-specific knowledge is indeed one of the things that will help a team the most.

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I have a degree in Construction Management and run preconstruction on large commercial construction projects…which has pretty much zero to do with competition robotics. It’s more about finding people who will consistently show up and will bring some passion to what they’re mentoring.

FRC-specific experience is absolutely a bonus if you can find it, but that can also be learned over time. Prior to walking in the door 6 years ago for an informational meeting, I had no clue that FIRST even existed. I just kept showing up and offering to help where I could. It turns out that there are actually lots of similarities to my professional world - multi-discipline collaboration, project management, tight timelines, tight budgets, problem solving, etc. I think you’ll find that once you get past the “but I know nothing about robotics” reaction that many people tend to have, you’ll find several areas where they can bring their professional experience to bear in order to help the team.

Edit: Sorry jaredhk. I hit the wrong “reply” button. Was intended as a general reply.

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