The Honor Code of FIRST

After talking about the honor code that FIRST heavily relies upon, I have had many questions as to if and how anyone really cares to enforce it. What do you think of the ‘Honor Code’ and how effective do you think it is? Do you think there should be more ‘checks’ or ‘written rules’ that would leave less up to teams and the honor code? What are other ways to combat some of the loop-holes (if any) around the honor code to make sure the playing field is level for every team? Discuss.

EDIT: What I mean by honor code is the code that we are trusting teams to stay within their boundaries of the rules and nobody is really checking up on them about going over their fix-it window times , using parts that were made out of official ours, parts from previous seasons, bringing more than 25 lbs to competitions and things along those lines.

I’m not exactly sure what, if anything, you are referring to specifically, so I’ll keep this general.

I have not seen failures in the honor code myself. I have heard unverified stories about how ‘that team’s mentors built their robot’, but I have chosen not to believe any of them, regardless of the source. And realistically, I don’t think any honor code infraction will disrupt how level the playing field is.

I believe that the honor code is working great. Fix-it windows are not a big enough issue to worry about (and they are totally unenforceable), and teams that break honor code rules at competition, such as the 72" x 72" maximum footprint, are fairly conspicuous.

I actually lean more to the side of “trust the teams”. Not only does it save time in redundant, unnecessary inspections, but it makes us feel more responsible and mature and more likely to follow the rules–less likely to test our limits.

Keep the honor code. We are not unethical people.


I part of an honor code is the idea that it shouldn’t have to be enforced because the group will follow it and knows what is and what is not acceptable.

Pavan, if I may ask, could you or someone give some examples of the Honor Code that you are referring to? It seems you are asking several questions and each may need to be addressed.

Well if this thread gets a lot of replies I feel like one common thing is that people will say they have heard of certain teams that have their mentors build their robot. I would like to ask this early. Isn’t Besides what FIRST is about (inspiration, etc) to win don’t you need the best design and strategy? So building a robot for students would be totally up to “code” if every part were designed but he students and the mentors were just building it as if it were a lego set. I know it may seem unfair, even from my point of view at times, but a part made on CNC by a mentor is the same as a part made on CNC by a student with a mentor by his/her side.


If you have to rigidly enforce an honor code, you have failed.

You teach others by showing how, and letting them practice. Just like throwing a ball, after a while the right way feels natural, and you just do it without thinking.

If FIRST trains you now to do what is Right, good chance that you’ll continue that behavior in life. And, in this way FIRST is chainging the world for the better.


Edited what I meant by the honor code in the first post.

The same can be said about designing and machining. In some facilities students are not able to touch the big equipment and BUT they do design the parts and modify them and everything except cutting the metal. In the end it was the student who made the part in my eyes.

I’m interpreting this Honor Code or honor code to be guided by integrity. Integrity is not a quality a team or an individual wears like a piece of clothing that is removed when circumstances become difficult. It is also not something that should be manipulated at the whim of the team or the individual for the sake of winning. What is the cost of that win? The team’s integrity. Their honor.

It is a value, a quality that is instilled in the team by its leadership. Or not. Rules can be written but each person, each team approaches a rule from a different perspective. From one of respect, or one of breaking, or one of getting around it or bending it as far as possible. If integrity is in place, the rule will be respected or will be questioned in an appropriate manner. If integrity is not in place, in my opinion, no amount of rules can be written to make up for that loss.

Here are my 2 cents on this topic.

Are the students being inspired by what happens throughout the season???

Deep down FIRST is about inspiration (yes whether or not you the ‘honor code’)

I don’t mean that people should just abandon there integrity, but its about inspiration.

Some teams don’t inspire through building, but other parts of it. So is it okay for that team let the high school students focus on what they want to and as some people would say ‘build’ the robot for them?
Some teams inspire through building robots but nothing else.

The way i see it is as long as the students are being inspired then FIRST has been succesful

Because many of the rules of FIRST regarding construction of the robot would be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce (i.e. use of items fabricated or software developed outside of the build season or fix-it windows), teams are bound by an honor code to comply with these rules.

As Jane says, it’s about integrity. Certainly, a team can choose to violate some of the rules and nobody else would know. When the team’s captain and mentor signs the robot inspection form at a competition, they are asserting their compliance with all of the rules.

Some people might live with misrepresenting their compliance with all of the rules because they think some of them are “dumb”. In reality, these folks are hurting themselves and the rest of the FIRST community. If a team needs to cheat to achieve victory, then that victory is hollow and diminished. I don’t think any FIRST team wants to have “clouds” hanging over their achievements, so the honor code largely succeeds in FIRST.

Honor code is an important part of the culture of FIRST. If that changes, the spirit of FIRST will suffer.

I thought about this some more last night. Responsibility is a big part of any honor code. Self accountability.

I’d like to explore this a little bit in the area of freedom. When one acts responsibly and with integrity, doors open that might otherwise be closed. This can apply to teams and individuals. We’ve had students on our team who have been encouraged to explore innovative ideas and develop their roles as student leaders or grow into them - because of their actions. We are also a team that we hope can be counted on to support and to help because of our actions and the reputation they have established.

Within any honor code is the opportunity to develop and grow. This might bring added responsibilities but it also brings added opportunities and freedom based on trust. When the trust is established then risk can also be explored in areas of development and innovation. Freedom with responsibility.

The opposite happens when the code of honor is broken, ignored, disrespected. Distrust sets in and irresponsibility removes the opportunity for freedom to explore and develop.

These were some of the thoughts I had last night. :slight_smile:

I just want to make a statement on a few posts first to reassure new/rookie team members. There is no rule that states that the robot must be built by students. It is desirable, depending on your team structure, but many teams feel strongly that inspiration is best handled with students working alongside adult mentors.
There are teams that might occasionally cross the line, there are teams that never cross the line and there maybe teams that cross the line regularly. For the most part no one will ever know in either case except the team. Our “gracious professionalism” credo insists that we make decisions that are based solely on the desire to inspire and recognize science and technology using robot construction and competition as a vehicle. This applies to all relationships between individuals, teams, sponsors and the FIRST organization. You cannot, by definition, inspire youth or adults by intentionally breaking rules or acting in a manner that is less than gracious or professional. Ideally this requires the same behavior 24/7. You cannot live graciously part of the day and then become a scoundrel at other times. However, as others have pointed out, trust and respect go hand in hand with fostering, by example, this behavior in other individuals and teams. We are human and therefore prone to mistakes in judgement. Even the best will occassionally make a mistake that they will have to live with for a long time. We should also then, strive to forgive and forget and move on. Nothing was ever accomplished by dwelling on the mistake or the punishment.
As to rules, yes some of them don’t make very much sense or conflict with standard practice. However, it is the rules that all of us deal with. We should think of them as virtual real world constraints like gravity or battery power and plan accordingly. Occasionally we will be able to change some rules, but we should strive to follow them as well as we can.

Honor is doing the right thing when nobody is watching.

Honor is a very difficult thing to enforce with rules because there are so many areas where things can be ‘overlooked’ by the officials.

Every year I tell my team “This is a competition, and the goal in a compitition is to win. However, it is the actions that one takes in achieving this goal that tells the measure of the person”.

And as far as mentor built robots go … How the mentors of a team inspire their team is unimportant, as long as the team is inspired to do great things. We in 1824 believe in ‘student designed, student built’, but that does not mean that all teams should do as we do. For inspiration comes in many forms.

A little more on the philosophy of “Honor Code”…

I graduated from Caltech (PhD in Chemistry, 1984), an institution which has operated under an Honor Code system throughout is existence (over 100 years). The Honor Code at Caltech is driven by one, single guiding principle:

“No member of the Caltech community shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the community.”

That principle is applied to academics (it is policy that all tests are unproctored), research, property, and even interpersonal relationships at Caltech. Violations of the Honor Code are dealt with very seriously. The Conduct Review Committe along with the Board of Control or Graduate Review Board will conduct investigations and hearings to deal with cases of suspected violations of the Caltech Honor Code. If substantiated, the violator can expect justice to be administered - up to and including expulsion.

So, what is the result of having such an honor system in place? At Caltech, you have complete trust in everyone in the community. You can be open with exchange of ideas, offer critical comments, and work together without the fear of being taken advantage of by others. This creates a very stimulating environment in which to explore and learn.

I get the same feeling in the FIRST community. In this forum, students (and mentors) explore the interpretation of rules to determine the boundaries of acceptable behavior - that’s OK. After being in FIRST for a while, participants generally become less interested in “lawyering” the rules and tend to focus on the real purpose of FIRST: inspiration. This is why I believe the Honor Code is an essential part of FIRST culture - if we accept that principle and are faithful to it, FIRST will remain an environment of trust, respect and honor for all of its participants.

Note: My discussion of the honor code was not about mentors or students building/making parts, it was mostly about how teams can go as far as they wish if they wanted to concerning fix-it windows to build parts, bring more than their allotted weight to competition, and other stuff along those lines. Although most teams will uphold the rules, there is always that possibility and that possibility is an unfair advantage. My discussion was if there is a way to ‘check up’ on the honor code?

For my Independent Study Mentorship class, my teacher would call either us or our mentors during slots where we signed out to make sure we were ‘on task’ when we were not being watched. Although she only called once, the fear of her calling again reduced the amount of people signing out to ‘meet their mentors’ and going home to honestly writing ‘going home’ on the sign out sheet.

its doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. even when there is no one watching, or you can have personal gain if you dont do the right thing.


The honor code is simply an answer to the question “Do teams ever cheat?”. Remember, we are all part of FIRST not to win, but to play with everyone else. We love FIRST so much that we would shame ourselves to even think of intentionally sneaking around the very loose rules that are imposed.

I am going to make a distinction on what I consider cheating. Cheating is intentionally ignoring the explicitly or implicitly stated rules in the competition manual, with the intention of gaining an unfair advantage over other teams. If you don’t know what cheating is, then you should go play in a different sandbox.

I feel I need to further by reminding people not to use accusations of cheating to mask feelings of jealousy, most notably against an experienced three digit team from the West Coast. We all feel jealousy at one time or another, but sometimes we are so amazed (and jealous) of a team’s ingenious and effective ideas that sometimes give them the upper hand against us. And this jealousy can lead us to conclude that the other team must be cheating. And needs to be punished. :mad: And for all the time that you are thinking about this, the other team is actually focusing on things that really matter (i.e. anything but jealousy).

If it really bothers you so much then go up to the team and start asking questions. What materials do they use and why? Did any real life object serve as inspiration? Who is in charge of what? What to do if you have more questions? You will invariably discover that all teams respect the game and its rules just like you.

Just to throw this in there…

At the Atlanta championship we caught 2 vex teams applying lube to sliders. Which is definitely illegal and spelt out in the rules. We confronted them about it and they replied that they were unaware of this rule. Ignorance is not a excuse. I think this was an abuse of the honor code. One of the teams used it again later, and we found the lube and threw it away without them knowing. We felt bad, but they were not abiding by the rules. One of the teams went on to do VERY well in the competition.

What do you think?

enforcing the rules is not up to teams, it is up to FIRST. For this i lose respect for you and your team. If you notice something that shouldn’t be done ask them top stop this (which you did), however if you see this happen again you should notify a FIRST inspector and allow them to deal with it.

Enforcing rules is not and should not be left up to team (except for the code of honor which deals with the fix-it windows)

I think one thing that makes the honor code in FIRST so un-controversial is that everyone knows the reasoning behind it. If people buy into the philosophies of FIRST, the thought of cheating a) wouldn’t even occur and b) if it does occur, is instantly repugnant.
I was discussing with my wife the other day that FIRST teams really get the notion of collaborative competition. “If I help you as much as I can, if I help you be as good as you can be, then beating you becomes that much more satisfying.” It’s almost like a sibling rivalry between teams, especially those in close geographic quarters.
One sidenote to this conversation - Within your team, whose obligation is it to present the Honor Code to the new members? Once instilled, whose obligation is it to police the team and keep the Code alive in the team’s conscience? (by “whose” I mean coaches, teachers, mentors, NEMs, parents, veteran students, etc.)

edit: I agree completely with Mr. Delles. Teams should not be vigilante groups; if you spot suspicious/illegal behavior, discuss it with team members (which was done in this case) and try to come to an alternate, ethical solution. If necessary, alert officals. We make ourselves better by lifting others and standing on their shoulders, not by knocking them down.