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what skills from FIRST robotics help you as an architect?

Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
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Joined: May 26, 2003
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On the Pearson website, I read that Dave mentors a high school FIRST robotics team. (I do as well in the capacity of programming mentor.) FIRST emphasizes the students working with experienced professionals to learn.

What skills do you think transfer back to work as an architect? Some I can think of:

better communication
practice explaining - design, version control, maintainability, testing
enhanced mentoring skills
more appreciation of project planning
a new way of looking at problems - hardware programming is different

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Dave Hendricksen
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Joined: Dec 06, 2011
Posts: 31
Hi Jeanne,

As I am sure you know well, one of the chief tenants of FIRST robotics is the concept of Gracious Professionalism – the notion of working hard, competing hard, but doing so in a respectful manner.

This is one of the things that initially drew me into the FIRST program – along with its emphasis on STEM related education.

From a team perspective, we try to run the team like a small business. We currently have 65 kids on the team and about 23 mentors. It allows us to learn a lot of different skills:
• How to maximize the dollars on our robot build and travel budget? (Being financially pragmatic)
• How to deal with “staff” turn over? (Kids graduate every year – continuous training needs)
• How to creatively raise funds? (We raise all of our own funds – company grants, bagging groceries,…)
• How to engage others? (sales/leadership - The students self select to be on the teams, the mentors self select to be on the team)
• How to manage/decompose projects? (Students need to be taught program management, systems architecture, software architecture, …)
• …

First is a great program. For those reading this post, if you ever get the chance to – try mentoring a team – they are always looking for help – it’s great fun (release you inner geek – building robots will do it every time).

Building robots (or nearly anything - software, trebuchets, ...) is one of my favorite things to do.

– thank you for the question!

Dave Hendricksen [12 Essential Skills for Software Architects]
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30937
    
158

Good point on running it like a business. The team I volunteer with has "departments" with an executive committee made of up department heads.

I've also gotten to teach them about "what it is like in the real world" and how the skills they are building relate. I was thinking more about *my* skills in asking the question.
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30937
    
158

Even if you don't have time to mentor a team, you can still volunteer. All of the regional events need a lot of 1-3 day volunteers. And the events are free to the public. If you have any kids who would like to watch robots, it is an amazing thing to watch. Or as an adult. I like watching.
Dave Hendricksen
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Joined: Dec 06, 2011
Posts: 31
Hi Jeanne,

Leadership Skills:
• The motto on our team is “student lead, mentor driven”. We work toward having the students lead the team, and leverage the expertise of the mentors. In many respects, I see this as one of the daily jobs of an architect – allowing others to lead and own the project or parts of the project, but guiding it in a manner that drives it toward success.
• Learning to delegate – allowing others to have an ownership in delivering.
• Learning to work in areas where you need to work through influence, not authority (most architects do not have direct reports; they have to work through influence to get things done).

Business Skills:
• Learning to be pragmatic – finding ways to balance the need to move forward technically (bringing in new technology) while simultaneously keeping costs down (implantation, operational, …) and delivering on time (you only have 6 ½ weeks to build the robot from when you first learn of the requirements).
• Vision – helping establish a common vision of what needs to be built.

The really short answer is nearly everything I talk about in the book gets exercised when working with a FIRST team.

Just like a real project, it is nearly always a thrill to see the project get delivered.

Mentoring others is also highly rewarding. It's fun to see others grow and see the light bulbs go on.

Thanks for the additional comments!
 
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