New to robotics...feel lost, useless, and robotics career question

So, I started robotics, thinking it would be very cool and all. It is, but like we have 4-7 people on our team, and well they are kind and stuff, but I feel we aren’t too productive, and we tend to waste a lot of time, I think. They assigned me a very small part of the robot, which they said, at the end will probably keep , but not too sure of it also. So any way, I was thinking of a career in Robotics also, but what do they do in the “career”?

Does robotics get more fun as time goes on. I feel an obligation to stay at the metting till the end, because I want to become president in my team junior year, but, then again what should I do? If there’s nothing for me to do at a meeting, should I just leave? Thanks a lot.

If you want to be more involved, talk to your teammates and ask to be given more work. Yes , robotics gets more fun as time goes on (at least, if you want it to be fun).
Whatever you do at a meeting, DON’T LEAVE until you have to. You never know when someone will need help or when you might learn something new.

something about FIRST robots that is not obvious: they can be made more or less ‘out of the box’ or they can be as complex and unique as your team itself.

there are many aspects to the bot: the drive train, the electronics and wiring, the sensors, the pneumatics, the driver controls, the acutators that interact with the scoring objects and other stuff on the field, and the programming

if you have not been assigned much to do, then pick one of those aspects of the robot and become the expert on that part of the system.

Your team is really small. The average team is around 22 students, and some have more than 60. I cant imagine how 4 or 7 students would not be busy 5 days a week and all day saturday until ship date.

If you need some more specific ideas, send me a Private Message here on the CD forum (so you dont give away all your teams secrets) and let me know the basic ideas for your robot. Maybe I can offer suggestions that you can add to it, more things that you can do to make it better.

or another way: look around on this forum and see what other teams are doing (design ideas) and find something you can adapt for your teams bots.

I agree with Ken - pick some aspect or part of the robot that you find interesting, and read up on it, ask questions, and become THE expert - but not arrogantly. One student on our team last year was feeling kind of left out, so I suggested that he focus on the battery. He learned about batteries, and chargers, he read the rules and wiring info, went to a bunch of web sites (including Exide’s and Schumacher’s - the battery & charger manufactuers), and overall just made sure he did all he could to take care of the batteries.

Turns out, he saved our team a few times by having a charged battery, and knowing which one was the “fullest”, at all times. When crunch time came, he was there with what we needed - a battery.

So, this student went from literally knowing nothing about a subject, to being the expert on the team, in two weeks. Now, he is a valuable member of the electrical team, and is passing on his “battery” job to a freshman.

Point is, every team needs people, for a LOT of jobs - find a job that you might like and get really good at it, but without taking someone else’s job.

Oh, yes - robotics get a lot more fun as you learn and can do things better.


Here is an idea: Research what is missing on your team and be that person who makes up for it. At first people may not realize, but as time goes on they are bound to respect your knowledge. If I had to pick something I’d say scouting. Are there any kids on your team who are good scouts? Then you can sit and research teams and at competitions you know what to do and who to talk to. Tip: The history of teams plays a major role in their performance every year. Like scouting, there are tons of other aspects to robotics - chairmans, animation, autodesk, etc. etc. For more information look at the game documents on
Good luck,

Scouting is probably the number one most overlooked area in FIRST. I hav actually seen two teams at the same event who did not do their scouting have to borrow a sheet from another team. Don’t be one of those teams who says, “Aw, we’ll never make it to the eliminations, we don’t need scouting,” and is caught unprepared when someone else thinks they are the best team around and neither team has a scouting sheet. Find or make a sheet that you can use and train at least one or two others (preferably the whole team) in the use of it. Try the Scouting Forum or Whitepapers for examples.

Don’t give up on it yet. Robotics, especially in FIRST is an amazing program. When some people first start out they feel outside the group and feel like they have nothing to do but over time you will find you niche, and when you do take it as far as it can go. You will learn to love this program, I am sure of it.

what ever you do, DO NOT give up. i promise you it will get better. my first year i didnt really know all that much about robotics, in fact…i pretty much didnt know anything. but my brother had left his legacy for the team and everyone had high expectations. so my first year i just jumped from group to group and tried to get my hands on a little bit of everything, to see what i liked the most and, 5 years later, im still helping out.

so even though now you may feel lost and useless, just jump in there and get your hands dirty, the more effort you show the more responsibilities and respect you’ll recieve

scouting is important at the events

but Legola52 needs to find his nitch on the team now. The 1st regional is still a long way off.

we had a guy on our team a few years back whos older sister had been on the team for three years. He had been to regionals, and to the championship at Epcot with the family.

His first year on the team he thought he knew what FIRST was all about, and all about the robot design and fabrication. But he kinda floated around and didnt really click with anything in particular.

When we got the kit of parts after the kickoff, I asked him to check out the pneumatics, to check all the cylinders and the compressor and valves, and to make sure all the parts worked.

He charged up a tank and connected the biggest cylinder, with a valve and some hosing, and manually triggered the valve, switching the cylinder back and forth at full pressure.

he got this look in his eye (and I had the feeling we were in trouble :^). That year he lead the pnuematics design and implementation on the robot.

You never know whats going to grab your imagination when you are on a FIRST team.

I agree with all of the above–pick a field and you may learn to love it!!

There’s never a shortage of things to do, and not all of them are obscure. You could learn the ‘C’ programming language (I suggest the tutorials at, by the way), you could teach yourself Inventor, or you could simply find a mentor and aquaint yourself with some of the power tools and become one of the team’s machinists.
If your team hasn’t already done so, you may wish to consider sketching out your robot idea for this season and delegating each person to a specific aspect of it based on personal interest. That way, each person will have a job that they’ll (hopefully) enjoy, and they’ll learn a lot about it in the process.
1502 was a rookie team last year, and I’m know well the feeling of being useless. I just decided to teach myself Inventor, and after that, the bad feelings were gone. I know that I’m needed for something that no one else on our team is yet capable of doing. If you find a purpose for being there, FIRST is a blast. Everything will get better!!

best of luck to you and your team!

Scouting needs proper prep work. I had a sheet 3/4 finished by the end of Week 1.
If no one else is thinking about weight, someone should. Legolas52, that could be you or someone else, but weight is very important. You need to know how much the robot weighs (as closely as you can) so you know how many holes to drill or what parts to remove if you are overweight. If you are over 120 pounds without the battery and/or bumpers, you will not compete.

If someone else is working, never leave the meeting early. Leaving a meeting early gives an impression of disinterest. If you can’t find someone to assist or a task of your own to do, go stand at someone’s elbow and ask them to explain what they are doing. Then stand there and watch what they are doing.

If they get something to work, you will see how they did it. If they run into problems, you will see how they troubleshoot them. This will increase not only their knowledge from experience, but yours as well. Experience can be a slow teacher sometimes, but luckily we tend to be slow learners sometimes as well. Ask questions about why they are doing something in a particular manner.

Don’t forget Dave’s story about the intern and the mini-bot that became the Mars rover. Keep involving yourself and asking to help.

my first year of FIRST was quite challenging. I think everyone feels a little lost their first year because they don’t know what they can contribute to the team. for someone like me, who had no engineering or mechanical or even computer skills whatsoever who just thought robotics sounded interesting, and i am now one of the leaders of the team, i was the driver last year and now im helping with the fabrication of parts and learning how to use the machines.

my first year i designed the tee-shirts and did public relations and video. once i had a feel for what the team was like and what the competitions were like, i had a better idea of what i wanted to do in the future it takes a lot of paitence to know what you can contribute to the team, and dont worry, you still have a few more years to build and contribute.

think of something that your team has a need for. is it a website? is it promotions at the event? talk to your mentor and brainstorm ideas to help your team grow.

My freshman year I joined the team intending to be on programming. I had the least experience of all the programmers and was initially given a small little job (just code to turn a compressor on and off) so I could learn the language and my job could be easily done if I screwed up. I just looked at the code others made and what they gave us to learn, and asked my Dad (who became a mentor) for help understanding things. Next thing I know, all the programmers except for me and the team lead quit or stop coming due to work, and I had the entire autonomous mode and arm code given to me to do. Now I’m co-programming lead and Vice President of the club.

From personal experience, I say finish what job they gave you, then use that extra time to learn everything you possibly can, you never know how much you might end up helping out!


Let me give you a very short version of just one story about what can happen. A while back there was a senior on one of the teams participating in the 1999 FRC program. It was her first year on the team, and because she would be graduating, it was going to be her last. She joined the team without really knowing what to expect, and believed she was without a specific skill that could add to the team’s capabilities. Her initial experience was very similar to the one you describe. Part way through the build season, one of the team mentors sat down with her and a friend and explained how a servo worked. At the end of the discussion, they were told, “OK, now that you know how that works, we need you to do something. You have to build a little adapter and mounting fitting for the servo, and set it up so it can make this particular motion that will release the tie-downs on the rest of the robot. The servo only has to make one simple motion, but it has to do it absolutely perfectly each and every time a match starts, otherwise the rest of the robot will never work. Can you do that?” The two girls took over the task, built the servo adapter and mount, and made dang sure that it worked every single time it was needed. It was only a simple single-servo motion, but it was important to the successful operation of the entire robot.

After getting a start with her team by building that one little servo system, she was hooked. At every meeting she found a way to get more involved, and worked at really understanding how the robot and the team could be improved. She had so much fun with the team that, a year later, she co-founded a brand new team during her freshman year at college. Five years later, she worked for a full year to be personally responsible for creating 12 brand new teams and chairing the planning committee for a brand new FRC regional event. Today, she is a Regional Director for FIRST, and a dyed-in-the-wool roboholic!

Yes, robotics does get to be more fun as time goes on. And we should be clear - “as time goes on” can be a long time. I have been doing robotics-related work for over 20 years, and it continues to be a lot of fun. But, you should expect to put in a lot of work to make it fun (nothing happens for free!).

Is it worth it? I dunno. People will answer that differently, based on their own experiences, values, and perceptions. You will have to answer that one for yourself, after you have participated in the process a little longer. But the one thing that I can guarantee is: you won’t get anything out of the program if you don’t stick with it, but if you really do put a lot of energy into a full and honest participation in the program, the results can be amazing.


best way to get involved: ask a team who is working on something if they need help.
that way, (if they arent snobs) they will most likely say yes, and bam! you have a prt on the team.

you just gotta make sure (if one dya youhappen to be on the other end) that you dont leave someone out, or even worse discriminate.

just last year, we had one of those kids who would discriminate against the weak (aka, the soft-spoken). The disciminees either left the team, tried to sabotage our robot, and one of them actually got a mad parent involved.
it was ugly, but we got thru it (and made a STRICTLY enforced rule against leaving people out)

u gotta be careful. but ask for help, and ask if help is needed. thats all it takes.

This is only my second year on a robotics team, and I had a somewhat similar experience on my team my rookie year. I dont attend the school which my team is based out of, but I was asked by the team leader (my dad) to contribute my programming knowledge (which is limited, but more than anyone else’s) to the effort. I agreed, and my FIRST career began.

I experienced extreme culture shock my very first meeting.
The school at which my dad teaches is in Philadelphia, and the kids on it come from all over the city…I live out in the suburbs, and am pretty much the stereotypical geek.
It was pretty difficult to prove myself to the rest of the team and to get accepted into the group, but I worked hard, learned what I needed to to contribute to any lacking aspects of the team (in my case I learned much more about programming, memorized all the wiring rules and became head electrician, and was integral in design and fabrication of our arm), and by the end I had gone from ‘Dillon’ or ‘Mr. Compton’s Son’, to ‘D-Rock’ or ‘Ben’(an affectionate reference to a supposed likeness between myself and Mr. Franklin…). Work hard, prove invaluable to the team, and not only will you have fun, become obsessed, and get accepted; you’ll also learn some things!

the forums and the whitepapers on this site are a great resource, and there are some useful link on my teams webpage…[shameless plug]… Click on the “resources” or “links” tabs!

Good luck


A Mentors view:

We see this all the time here in Zeeland. The question for us is “How do I give you the task that will keep you going until you get hooked?”

I am glad you sent us the e-mail here on CD. I think you need to get that small job done then “get in the way” and ask questions of the mentors. Most important, don’t quit!

Mr. Yasick

P.S. I love the name of the town you are from :slight_smile:

I had the same sort of useless feeling the first few days on the team, but here’s the thing, especially if you are on an inexperienced thing - find someone no one else wants to do. I wound up reading the rules at home one night, and overnight became the recognised ‘rules guy’. Its odd how many times people need information, and its great to be the one that has the answer, like the earlier battery man example. Keeping up on things here on CD is another job you might take up… I’m kinda describing my own job, I think. What I’m trying to say is that there are a lot of opportunities, techinical and not, when you’re doing something as complicated as this competition.

That’s a neat job and would definitely help your team. Since you said there’s only 4-7 people on the team, why don’t you start recruiting other members? Grab some people out of the comp sci class, see who’s really ahead in math, who loves physics, get people from DECA and Student Council to help you with the business and PR end of the team. There are so many awesome people you meet through FIRST. There’s always someone to supply you with the supportive can-do and don’t give up attitude; why would you want to leave?
Keep your chin up, kid; you’re probably more valuable than you realize :slight_smile: