FIRST alumni: How has FIRST affected your career?

FIRST alumni, I’m working on a small project about the effects of FIRST and the build and competition season on job performance and careers.

Essentially, I would like to know how the time limits, constraints, and challenges of FIRST have changed your performance in the workplace. If there is a comparable difference between your non-FIRST co-workers, then please make note of that, too.

This project was inspired off of our newest mentor who told us the shortest time he ever had for a project of this caliber was about 6 months, and told me that the students involved in FIRST will be at a greater advantage than those who don’t in the workplace.

The information used in this study is for my personal use only, and possibly for use of the team for promotional materials.

Thank you all very much for taking the time to answer my questions, and enjoy the week one regionals!


FIRST has affected my career from many different perspectives (educationally, socially, and professionally), and all of these perspective can help provide an answer to your question.

As a freshman in high-school, I came in with mediocre motivation and one honors class, as well as having no idea what I wanted to do with my life. After four years, I graduated high school with tremendous interest in STEM, three passing AP scores, and admittance into a good college. From someone who had no idea, I became someone with a solid idea of what I want to do with my life, and I have FIRST to thank for that.

All of my friends look at me awkwardly when I tell them that I hardly spoke during my younger years, and that was true. I did not have a tremendous amount of people skills. I was friendly with my friends, but meeting new people was awkward to me. All throughout my FIRST experience, I started doing some public speaking, and I ended up doing well despite my initial thoughts. I continued doing it, and eventually became a personable character. I enjoy company, and like meeting new people. I have made some great friends through FIRST as well. I love to have fun, but not to the extent of being unproductive.

Being on a FIRST team made me realize that great tasks can be achieved with the right motivation. Under such a time constraint, the right motivation will make the experience more fulfilling, as well as easier. Basically, FIRST gave me a phenomenal work ethic. From delegation, understanding constraints and acting appropriately, public speaking, organization, leadership, and much much more, I am now able to implement all of these traits into my life (probably at a much greater magnitude than if I was not a part of FIRST).

Forgive me if this entire post sounds like gloating, but I would just like to emphasize how much FIRST has benefited me. I can honestly I do not know where I would be without FIRST.

Hope this helps Andrew. Good luck with project!

Well to start with, Without FIRST I have no idea what I would be doing right now. I found what I love to do through it, and am going to school for electronics engineering. The Gracious Professionalism sunk in too, a little too much probably. I’d like to keep mentoring and maybe someone else will find what they want to do through a team I’m a part of. I’ve even thought of teaching. (My sisters a teacher).

Also, just like delsaner, I was a quiet freshman. But after spending 4 years in the program, no one believes that when I tell them. Nor do they believe that I never touched a power tool going into high school.

Although, I’m a lazy person. FRC didn’t really change my highschool grades. Again, people look at me like I have three heads when I tell them I was a low C student (glad to say not anymore, though).

While I’m “technically” not an alumni… I do have a story worth telling.
(sorry for the bullet point but there’s a lot here.)

*Went to Clarkson University in a large part because FIRST Robotics looked cool and my high school didn’t (and still doesn’t) participate.

*During my sophomore year my second semester GPA dropped from a 3.9 to a 2.9. Failed both of my design projects and only pasted Intro to Eng Design because of my previous CAD expertise. Seriously considered dropping out of engineering because it really didn’t feel like the place for me. However, that was also the year we went to Championships (Texas). I was blown away by the size and impact the ~325 teams were having that where crammed into the Astro Dome. After taking “the summer off” to work at a Boy Scout Camp, I came back to Clarkson the next semester determined to finish out my degree.

*Went to work at Lockheed Martin on the next generation Presidential Helicopter. Have no idea what impact FIRST had, but since my GPA was a 3.26, so I think it certainly helped. In truth, my knowledge of engineering and design was on par with professionals with a good ten years of experience.

*Tried unsuccessfully for three years to start a FIRST Robotics team with Lockheed Martin in Owego. The ultimate decision was to provide $2000 for two years to Chuck 84. The site size at that time was 5,000 people and they are the largest employer outside of Binghamton University in this area. I’ll never forget that in of my final VP meetings the question was asked “it looks like a great program, but how do we get the school to pay for it?”

*Turned down the VP head of Leadership Development a spot for a free ride to Cornell for a Masters Degree in Systems Engineering. At the time I was still trying to create a Robotics Team and this was only my second business meeting with Lockheed. I was that passionate about FIRST. That decision ultimately sabotaged my career because when the VH-71 program was canceled the only people under thirty who were retained was the ELDPs.

*Decided to earn a Masters in the Art of Teaching after being laid off in order to become a High School Physics Teacher, in large part because of my work with Boy Scouts and FIRST Robotics. I had also graduated from Clarkson with a double major in Physics which is why I was even eligible for the program. Unfortunately, I failed out. Officially it was because I was unwilling to work the 60 - 80 hours required of the program which “should be the expectations of anyone planning to go into teaching.” However, it was equally as much to do with that was the same year my fiance got pregnant and our daughter was born. I still flirt with the idea of moving south to some place like Florida that will accept my education as is and I can start all over.

*Tried to go into the Navy as an AMDO just last year (Aircraft Maintenance Duty Officer) however was PDQed (permanently disqualified) because of a preexisting medical condition. I won’t go into details here, however that medical condition was due to an automobile accident suffered as a Freshman while coming back from one of our high schools during the prebuild season.

*Overall, I was unemployed for two years and couldn’t find anyone who would talk to me past a phone interview. Then I got desperate, and a little lucky. I ended up with a job at JH Robotics which is a very small manufacturing company (there are only five engineers on staff). The big reason I got the job was the Head of Engineering used to be on Chuck 84 back before I joined the team. This would likely be most FIRST alumni ideal job, however after five months I honestly hate it here for reasons I won’t list.

So, professionally, FIRST has had a significant impact on my life and it has very much been a love/hate relationship.


To talk a little bit more to your specific points (and play a little bit of devil’s advocate) my experience with FIRST has actually hurt me in regards to schedule and level of expectations than helped me. I got so accustom to the workload and pace of FIRST that I was completely unprepared for the level of documentation needed in the real world. As I previously stated, I may have (or consider myself to have) the level of experience of someone 5-10 years older than me, but no other managers see it. They see me as a junior engineer who knows nothing. FIRST on my resume? Borderline worthless because no one is familiar with the program. They think its like some little tiny thing but we all know that not to be true. I am quite sincere when I say I have ten years of experience but then they respond, well yeah but professionally you have less than five. The result also is that I quickly get board with the projects I’m on, especially if they last longer than a month at a time. I’ll be the first to say that my attention span is now shot to %&@. It’s like I’m the kid who got straight A’s in school but now gets into too much trouble because he’s board and so now begins to misbehave since he has nothing better to do.

A mentor on 95 when I was a student, Dodd Stacey, took me under his wing. In addition to mentoring me on 95 he also supervised my honors thesis in HS (robotics-based, of course), and wrote my college recommendation letter.

I got into The Cooper Union for Mechanical Engineering. The work-ethic from my FRC team continued through Cooper’s first FSAE team where I worked to help get our rookie car on the road, placing 85th/120, to my senior year where we finished every event and placed 35th/120. I drove all three years we had a car and handled the pressure well, and was used to frantic pit-crew type work. I felt my FRC experiences as a driver and pit crew member contributed positively to my performance there.

The fabrication skills I learned on my FRC team got me into the Cooper machine shop as a freshman (very rare), then a job in the machine shop, then supervisor of the Mechanical Engineering Prototyping Lab, then I worked with some faculty to create a welding lab and was hired as the welding lab supervisor.

Outside of school Dodd recommended me for an internship position at a local startup engineering R&D firm. I was hired as an intern for 2 summers. I now work there full-time as one of 5 engineers.

TL;DR my interactions and experiences from FIRST got me three jobs in college, two summer internships, and my full-time engineering job after college in addition to making me a very effective team worker and very cool under pressure.

This is an interesting topic of discussion for me and, since I’m at work and want to keep this job, I won’t go on too much about it. :wink:

The short version is this: I worked as a mechanical design engineer for about 7 years in some fashion or another; I designed robots for FIRST teams for another three years before that. Nearly everything I knew about mechanical design when I first started was a result of my time spent on FIRST teams.

I have worked on a LOT of different projects with a lot of different companies. For some of that 7 years, I was working as an independent contractor and consultant so I could schedule around FIRST stuff, but that grows wearisome and as I got older, I began to value financial security more highly. In some cases, I found that I enjoyed FIRST more than my job and so I wasn’t as engaged in my paying work. That’s bad; don’t let that happen. Sometimes my employers were understanding, sometimes they weren’t. My last job as a mechanical design engineer ended in October 2011 when I was laid off (for the fifth time in my short career) from a company I quite liked.

I started to learn a new skillset – programming – and have been working as a software engineer for about two months now. I’m a contractor for now since I’m VERY new to the field, but I really enjoy it. This season has been hard because I’ve needed to prioritize my job higher than my team. There have been growing pains, but the team pulled together to get everything done. We’ll see how things go in San Antonio this weekend.

I’ve been doing this for 14 years and this season was the FIRST that I felt like I could look out for what was best for me and for my life instead of giving back to FIRST. I am tremendously appreciative of the opportunities its afforded me and the skills I learned, but eventually, it’s time to move on and let someone else take advantage of those same roles.

FIRST has affected my career, and my career has affected my FIRST. For starters, I’ll throw it out there that I am not an engineer, I am a market analyst.

FIRST has helped me get jobs. Going into the marketing world, I had to translate the skills I built in FIRST to a whole different group of people, usually people who never heard of FIRST. Companies loved the skills that I built in the program: time management, creative thinking, group work, multi-tasking, interacting with various ranks of people, research and planning, etc. I stood out from other marketing candidates because I was known as the robot kid.

My first job turned me into an auto analyst, and they loved the fact that I had connections to people in the automotive industry that I built up during my time in FIRST. The skills I picked up as a lead scout, strategist and drive coach made it 2nd nature for me to quickly and easily analyze the auto market and the impact new vehicles would have on the industry. However, they weren’t very keen to the time commitment involved in FIRST. Sadly, I was unable to convince my boss to let me adjust my schedule so that I could stay involved. After 5 years of being involved in FIRST as a student and mentor, my participation got minimized to watching saturday matches at local district events for the next 4 years and living vicariously though my friends who were still involved. FIRST helped shape who I had become, and I still wanted to to help other kids experience the same things I did, they just wouldn’t let me. This, combined with a plethora of other reasons, sent me looking for a new job late last year.

I was quickly swept up by a company that is contracted out by General Motors for analyst jobs. Most of my interview was spent talking about FIRST, even though I hadn’t been involved for years. Not only were they aware of the skill set those involved in FIRST possesed, but they encouraged me to get back into it. Both my new boss and director have kids who participated in FLL and FRC, they knew exactly what kind of employee they were picking up. My time spent scouting robots has made me a pretty good analyst, and my time spent as an analyst has made me pretty good at scouting robots.

As an aerospace engineer for a major aerospace company, I can most definitely say that coworkers who have experienced FIRST in one way or another (as a student or mentor) are consistently more action-oriented and responsive when it comes to resolving work-based engineering challenges.

We all know the schedule is unbelievably aggressive. If I were to compare a project of similar scope to a real-world engineering project (requiring a level of quality acceptable in my industry), it would likely require a design and build timeline of up to 12-18 months.

My estimate above includes everything from concept of operations, to requirements definition, to interface control, and to machining standardization. It would likely be ~6 months before the first piece of hardware is ever purchased or cut.

I enjoy the engineering challenge FIRST gives me even as an industry professional, because it gives me a chance to handle tooling and program in an more risk-free environment (ie try a design concept, and if it doesn’t work we didn’t just cost the company $10 mil).

Engineers at my company are normally not allowed to be as hands-on at work (labor unions and machinists are the only ones allowed to touch hardware at my company). Anyway, I find it easy to spot an engineer who is involved in projects like these, because they are able to better visualize not just what task needs to be accomplished, but how to assemble a system to accomplish said task.

FIRST didn’t exist when I was a student, but it has certainly had an impact on my teaching career.

After seven years coaching team 1346 two opportunities arose… one to move in to educational administration and the other to teach post secondary.

I chose the latter, and there were many factors that were relevant to these opportunities, but my involvement with FRC was part of opening the door to both.

It has meant giving up my role as an FRC coach/mentor/teacher. It has, however, opened up the opportunity to serve as an inspector and judge for FRC and contribute more time to the growth of VEX competitions and teams in our area.


Madison, How did you recover?

For me the major motivator is mission and vision. That’s the big reason I fell in love with FIRST. At Lockheed it was easy. I’m a Military Brat and it was a honor to serve POTUS. But here…

I did FLL starting way back in the 2001 season. We won the Director’s award in 2002 and 2004, (note that the FLL season + 1=FRC season), and part of winning that was that the team got scholarships for a summer camp for middle schoolers put on by Maine’s magnet high school (MSSM). This basically forced me into spending a week up there, and to my surprise I had a great time and even moreso the counselors (who were students) were awesome.

So I ended up spending 3 years of my high school career there, having a great time and doing more work than anyone ever should. Coming from a family of commercial fisherman, hard work isn’t really something I was ever opposed to, but working hard at school was just something I never had to do.

Since my home FRC team was so desperate for mentors, I got invited to participate in 7th since they needed my dad. I was on the team full time in 7th, 8th, and 9th grade, and while I was at MSSM our breaks lined up so I still got nearly 4 weeks of build season. MSSM is a state funded school, but we don’t need all of the required school days. As part of a deal with the legislature, students spend 2 weeks in “J-term” where you can either stay at the school and take a full time class, or stay at home and find a 2 week internship or job shadow. They are “classes” in a looser sense of the word, as some of them have centered around things like building a 30’ tall inflatable penguin. I obviously spent two weeks at home so I could work on the robot, but I also found interesting things to work on during the day including jobshadowing at a local snow plow manufacturing plant, shadowing the local airport manager, and restoring vintage airplanes.

I came to RPI and have been to visit 2791 a couple of times, but honestly I’m involved in clubs on campus already so I haven’t done much in college. Last summer I interned doing aerodynamics for commercial jets in Puget Sound (not a huge leap to figure out who for… :p), and I’m going back full time when I graduate in a couple months. I plan on getting reinvolved with FIRST at that point.

That particular company won the Founders Award recently, and their commitment to FIRST runs deep. They sponsored one of the first teams, and when I interviewed the hiring manager saw first on my resume and said, “Hey! I did that in 1993!” which made for interesting conversation. I also interviewed internally for a rotation program, and the hiring people there were also were interested in FIRST experience. They also had a huge FIRST tent at Seafair, which was neat to see.

Long story short, my involvement in FRC and being an Eagle Scout were the two things from high school I had on my resume, and managers tended to be more interested in FRC than the Eagle Scout badge.

Also interacting with people in college, I’d say FIRST alums give you a better shot at being decent group members – but far from make it a sure thing.

I think FIRST is an exceptional leadership training program, and I’m surprised more companies don’t take advantage of that. You basically cram an entire development program into six weeks that takes years in the real world, and it happens every year! Almost all of the problems you get in the real world, you get in FIRST. We like to think of FRC as a great opportunity for students (and it is), but it seems to me it is just a good opportunity for mentors.

I’m a mentor/founder of Team 3692

The FIRST experience has helped me in far too many ways to count, in my day job I’m a Systems Engineer type person who work with high end performance computing servers.

Working with students and FIRST has made me a better programmer, more organized, more thoughful, and has really opened my eyes to what todays youth are challenged by as they enter the workforce and college.

All of you FIRST students are truly amazing!