I wasn’t super happy with my 2022 thread. I rushed it and posted it too soon after champs and let it properly set in. Big events that take a lot of time like build season and competition season require space and time in order to properly reflect on it. This year instead of waiting until after the season I’m going to write this as we go (as I write this introduction it’s only November and it already has 1,700 words). I’m much happier with this thread than I am with my 2022 one because (for some reason) I felt a sense of obligation from 2021 that I just had to do one for 2022. I guess it’s because of how much feedback the 2021 one got and how good it was for me to write. But either way, the sense of obligation for this one is a redemption arc because it was not my best work last year.
fake it till you make it
At about week 5, week 6 of build season I had someone from the impact team ask me what I even did on the team. I think that is a perfectly valid question because this student only worked with the impact team. I still found it hard to answer, because I don’t physically do that much at meetings anymore. In fact, I feel like I did significantly less work than the people around me. A lot of my meetings at this time were spent walking from group to group, asking questions, and helping with whatever odd jobs I could. It felt like I did not deserve my position as a leader on the team because I didn’t contribute my share.
I couldn’t really put a name to this feeling until we got to world champs. Going into champs I had seen people talking about this thread and to be honest I didn’t look into it. I just didn’t think that I could feel imposter syndrome. It was only when I saw one of my teammates wearing the “I am enough” ribbon on their name tag that it hit me. I was in fact suffering from imposter syndrome.
I think part of the problem is that every year on the team I did radically different things. In 2020 I mostly did media, in 2021 I did mostly design, in 2022 I did mostly machining, and in 2023… well I’ll get back to you when I figure out what I did. But every year I was put into a position that I didn’t think I deserved (except for freshmen me, but we’ll get to him in a minute). In 2021 I did not feel like I had worked to earn my credit as a good designer, in 2022 I didn’t feel like the best machining student; many of my teammates would complain about the CNC (the machine I ran) being slow and holding up progress and while I was working the machine as fast as it could go every time we blamed the CNC for being slow that year I blame myself. Even at world champs, I ended up doing the alliance election for our team, I didn’t feel like I had earned the right to be there on the field.
The great part about writing a retrospective is that you make connections you didn’t have before. That also happens to be the worst part because as I am writing this, I can feel the same sense I have from before start to wash over me. I know people are going to read this and think that this is something special. That I am something special when I don’t think I’ve done anything to earn it. Because my experiences as a student and as a member of FRC are not that unique, many teams go unpicked at worlds, many teams end up as captains, and many people face the same personal struggles as I do. Trying to balance the need to do this for myself, and for others and the sense of what I can only describe as shame when I realize that I don’t bring anything new to the table with this thread.
Over the last 2-3 years I have been working my way through a lot of books on leadership. At least all the ones I could get on audiobook because let’s be real who has time to read? From these books I developed a set of quotes that I like to look back on when I need to be re-assured and when I need to figure out what is important to me.
“Be patient. Be authentic. And be consistent. The trust will come.” ― Ed Catmull [Creativity INC]
“The most crucial ingredient in a team that achieves and sustains historic greatness is the character of the player who leads it.” -Sam walker. [Captain Class]
“I am a mapmaker and a traveler.” -Brene Brown [Dare to Lead]
“Writing is how we validate our lives, make sense of our lives, come to terms with who we are or who we once were. How we organize our thoughts about the world we live in” -Willaim Zinsser [On Writing well]
These books have been instrumental in founding how I lead teams, both my own and others. I joke about the drive team’s bedtime being 10:30 but then I end up staying up until 1:30 watching matches back and trying to improve. My team is competitive, and as one of the co-captains of the team I need to put in tons of work in order to make sure our team was set up for success. I’m glad I took on this role because it paid off. You can’t expect your teams all if you’re not putting in your all. That’s not to say you need to be perfect, no one is perfect and I am far from even being excellent. So tell people when you messed up and when you don’t know something.
I knew going into this year that it was going to be very different from years past. Something that I don’t often talk about is that during my freshman year, I primarily did media and battery testing. A far cry from what I did the next year where I went and worked on our Infinite recharge at-home robot and designed 99% of it with just me and one other student. My thoughts on that year are detailed in another post I made. In 2022 I designed and built our shooter while doing all of our CNC work for that year. All of that is very real, easily quantifiable work. I can point to the shooter and say, “I did that” and the same for any CNC’ed plates on the robot. This year it wasn’t really the case, I had a hard time pointing to something and going “I did that”.
Teaching and letting others take over “my domain” might be the most challenging thing I had to do on a regular basis this season. Starting out it was really hard to let someone else do a task because I knew that I could get it done faster on my own rather than teaching someone. But by mid-season it was really rewarding to me not to be chained to the CNC, all I had to do was check over the operations, G-code, and work holding and let other people set up and run everything, by the end of the season I didn’t even to do that. The students who took over have come a long way in the year and I think the team will be set up for success next year in that regard.
I made several commitments this year. Part of the commitment I made to myself when I became a co-captain is that I would show up and be there for our ED&I meetings. We hold two ED&I meetings, on Fridays, our girls get together and on Saturday it’s our Brilliant Black Builders. In years past I had never joined in these meetings, partly because I didn’t think I needed to. I told myself that these meetings were just for women or just for black people as an excuse, but as I grew as a person, I realized that was wrong. If I wanted to be a good supportive leader, I had to be there for uncomfortable conversations. I think “dare to lead” helped me realize this lie I had told myself and act on it. I was afraid of saying something wrong, I was afraid of asking questions and trying to better understand. Because often on the internet you can see people asking questions and then getting dog piled because the answer is obvious. I made a promise to myself that I would just show up and listen. I can now say looking back that I should have done that in years past. Going and being able to listen in, and occasionally be a part of these conversations; seeing people on the team identify things and then being able to help them get a solution is hugely rewarding. I have learned so much about people on our team and helped them explore new areas of interest when they say they want to be more involved in XYZ.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have come full circle. My god does Burnout suck. The offseason was exhausting for me because for a lot of it we were meeting 2 times a week in summer and fall and every time I would come in it really didn’t seem like the team was moving. In the build season things move fast and so every time I come in for a meeting I can feel and see the change. The offseason wasn’t like that, one of our big jobs was to clean and get ready for the next year. Yet every day the room didn’t get any cleaner. It was just dirty in different ways. You can only do so much work before you start to realize you don’t want to show up. The people who you normally want to hang around at a meeting aren’t showing up. So why should you? My offseason was spent making parts for our swerve robot, and cleaning. I didn’t really get to do any of the shop improvement stuff that I wanted to because I got dragged to do this and that. Doing all these things that, in all honesty, I didn’t want to do and not being able to do what I wanted was really demoralizing for me. I wish that I had limited my personal scope for the offseason and limited the number of hours I went to meetings in a week. I went into the build season demoralized because I felt like I had not done what I needed to for the team to be successful.
In November 2022 I had a talk with some of the team leadership about how we think the offseason went, our team has an anonymous feedback form that goes straight to our lead mentor. I won’t post word for word what this student said because I don’t want them to feel called out, but it was essentially along the lines of “I don’t know if this team is right for me because a lot is going on and I don’t know how to contribute.” and that comment made me think, another student writing it so vividly really gave me a sense of what it was like. This offseason was not our best, and with our swerve offseason testing, we ended up building a few new robots which strained our resources.
Extending what is normally a 6-week sprint into a 3-month slog of slow process and back and forth CAD designs and arguments about dumb stuff really wore on me. You would think that with 3 months and a season of experience the robot would get built faster. This was not the case.
Something I will say is that I don’t know if the extra meetings helped us. I know it certainly wore on me and I can only imagine it did the same for others. comparing this year to last year (which might not be the fairest) we had way more underclassmen show up and participate in our goal-setting meeting. part of me thinks it is that we are meeting so often and have so few jobs that underclassmen didn’t feel value in showing up and that translated into our goal-setting meeting which is a shame because I think that having rookies there for those conversations is important.
Not to say we didn’t gain anything from the extra meetings, I think that the swerve drive experience we got is valuable and was needed but if I had to go back and do it again, I would have cut down on the frequency of meetings after NTX.
Quote from me talking about how I thought the offseason went.
Remember when I said earlier, we would get to freshmen Beter. That’s now.
Sometimes I will go back and watch old prototyping videos from my freshman year. I can be heard in the background of some of these videos and when I do hear myself it’s a full-body reaction where I just want to curl into a ball and never see the light of day ever again. I fully acknowledge that the freshmen version of me sucked; I was not great to work with or be around. I don’t say that as a means to put myself down and it’s not made up, and I’ve had multiple people who I worked with my freshman year validate this claim (younger siblings of teammates are very willing to give away information on this surprisingly).
I can distinctly remember one moment when I was talking on Discord and I said something dumb. I can remember @krf called me out on it. I got defensive and started backpedaling the whole thing and I told myself that it was just a communication issue, that people just didn’t fully understand my words. I don’t remember if I ever said sorry and I definitely didn’t say thank you for calling me out. So, thank you Kim for speaking up when I said something wrong, it’s people like you that help me grow and be a better person even if you may not remember it 3 years down the line.
While I haven’t fixed every problem that I had at the start of high school. I can defiantly say that I have changed a lot. I still get defensive; I still blow people off who are trying to help me; and probably many other issues that don’t surface to me right away. But I take the fact that I go back and watch these old videos of me, and cringe, to me is a sign that I have grown. I often tell people who want to know more about FRC, or our team and I more often then not tell them “This team has changed my life.” not because it led me to a widely different carrier path, I always wanted to do something in STEM and that is still the case. I tell people this team changed my life because if it wasn’t on this team, I would probably be the same sucky freshman version of myself. I came into FRC just wanting to build robots, and I have discovered that there is so much more to this team that I enjoy than just building robots.
It is really easy for me to steamroll other people’s subsystems and projects. One example I have this season is I chose to work on assembling and maintaining our swerve drives. Instantly the mentor working with the drive-train team started asking me questions trying to get me to set deadlines for things or treating me like the drive-train team leader. I have never been the drive-train team leader, nor did I want to lead this team because there were students with more experience and better knowledge than me. The next time I saw the drive-train team leader I ended up apologizing.
Feeling like I just became the default leader of whatever team I was on sucked. Like, truly and completely sucked and at one point early in the season I nearly had a breakdown in front of the team over this. I really do love it when I am able to work with someone and we are able to have a back-and-forth conversation. I hate having to tell people what exactly to do and not having them ask questions back. It never sits right with me when people do what I ask simply because I’m in charge. I am often wrong, and sometimes words when I tell people stuff come across as confusing, rambly, and not fully formed. This post has been a multi month project with each section getting written and re-written numerous times.
I took up drive coaching in the 2022 offseason. My job was to help them and most of the time that means I go stand over by the human player so I’m not hovering over the driver. Yet I’m still responsible for the robot, if something fails it’s my fault. I trust my drive team to do their job to the best of their ability every time. But it’s helpful to have someone to fall back on when you’re under so much pressure. Someone to talk to other teams, be they nice or rude so that everyone else can worry about the robot. Someone to watch the score and see if we need to change to start going for some RP or other, whenever you try to do something great you are going to meet failure, struggle, and heartbreak along the way and it’s my job to deal with that so when our success does come, it comes in the form of the drivers being put in a mosh pit as the whole team rushes to tell them good job. My job has less to do with figuring out how to win a match or rank where we want to. That’s still part of it, and don’t get me wrong I still love that part.
I’ve wanted to drive coach since the 2021 offseason because it seemed like fun. I can confirm that it is really fun. I’ve been familiar with the match strategies used in past games, but by the time I got to drive coach in 2022 most people had a more relaxed outlook and that game didn’t have a lot of design diversity meaning that robots generally all did the same thing. This year had way more to offer in terms of robot specialization. You had cube runners and robots that couldn’t do cubes well. You had hybrid spammers and robots that couldn’t do cones. This year had so many different robots that all did different things making matches super fun to plan and play each match.
Being a worlds alliance captain is a view-altering experience. Especially this year when the game is poised for upsets and the double elimination bracket allows for 8th to live on. We knew there was a solid chance of us ending up as the alliance captain. We also knew that the depth of champs plus being in one of the weaker divisions gave us a good chance to take it all if we picked and played it right. This game doesn’t scale as well with many high-scoring robots because traffic is such a hindrance this year and being able to pick to really solid picks back-to-back to form our alliance was amazing. We also got a steal of a 4th robot. Even though they didn’t get to play they were super motivated to win and help in any way.
Is this the end?
It feels cliche to title this section “Is this the end” but I am going to do it anyways. For those of you who have no idea who I am, I’m a graduating senior this year. I’ve done FRC all 4 years of high school and it’s been a blast all four years even over covid, there is nothing I would have rather done. I’ve failed a lot; I’ve learned even more. Both about robots and about myself. I am sad that it is ending, but I could not have imagined a better end. I’ll probably volunteer somewhere at some time but past that who knows? I’ll continue to write reflections on major events, but I probably won’t post them for you all unless I start mentoring a team in a few years. I had a great time as a student, meeting people and competing with and against them. There are too many people to thank here and there are so many people I would not be here without.