In my last blog, Experience is Quite a Teacher, I talked about learning through a challenging experience. I gave examples of some of my experiences and how they taught me valuable lessons and helped me to grow as an engineer. I’d like to take a moment to let you know of a recent experience that has taught me some very valuable lessons. I’d like to tell you how it was not a challenging deadline to meet at the office nor was it a challenging customer question. Instead it came from a group of young folks ranging from 6 years old to 17 years old. It came from kids with incredible imaginations building Lego projects and poster boards around a concept to improve something in their surroundings with the grand goal of making the world a better place for others. It came from teams of teenagers putting their heart, soul, time, and minds into building a robot to perform specialized tasks and competing against other teams with these robots. I want to tell you about FIRST and how I’ve been changed through this experience. I hope this will make you curious and I hope it will make you think a little bit more about our next generation of engineers.
As you all know from reading my blogs I have attended the IMS (International Microwave Symposium) for the past six years or so. I thoroughly enjoy this aspect of my work and have been blogging about the show since 2013. I really enjoy meeting other engineers from the industry and discussing real application questions and issues with cutting edge technology. I enjoy interfacing with other great employees from different sites within Analog Devices (ADI) that are supporting the company demonstration booth. I thoroughly enjoy the face to face time with customers and chatting with them about the issues and challenges they are facing. It is great to talk to these customers and offer solutions that can help them with the products they are designing. This is great and is important work, but one thing I have overlooked a bit is our younger generation of engineers. I had the opportunity last week in Houston and now this week in St. Louis to see firsthand the incredible accomplishments of the young folks in the FIRST program.
I arrived in Houston last week with a limited understanding of FIRST, but not a really good idea of what it is really all about. I quickly learned about the amazing abilities of all the young folks at FIRST. I entered the week much as I would for the IMS show considering I was onsite to provide support for the ADI demonstration booth in the pit area of FIRST Robotics Competition.
ADI Demonstration Booth at FIRST Robotics in Houston
I found through the many interactions with the young kids and the teens on the teams that these guys were special. These young folks are full of passion about their projects and their robots. I see teens that are respectful, courteous, well-rounded, and intelligent who have a drive to continue to learn and put their skills to good use. I also had the pleasure of meeting many of the teens’ parents who are all so very supportive of what their children are working on. I met with many different team mentors who give so freely of their own time to guide and assist their teams. I was amazed at how much each of these folks poured into these young folks. It culminated with the finals competition at Minute Maid Park in Houston where I believe there was somewhere around 29,000 people on hand to witness the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) and FIRST Technical Challenge (FTC). I took a panoramic photo of the baseball stadium to give an idea of just how many folks were there. It was incredible to see the support that these young folks received from parents, mentors, volunteers, sponsors, and suppliers.
FIRST Finals Competition at Minute Maid Park
I was changed by what I saw in Houston at FIRST and have had a similar experience this week in St. Louis. It has amazed me what these young folks have been able to accomplish. Our booth setup is slightly different for the venue in St. Louis. I also made sure to grab a photo of our booth with our demonstrations. Our demonstrations include a gyroscope and an inertial measurement unit (IMU) that were available to the FIRST FRC teams, a communications system, an IMU in small toy jet with cockpit and instrument view on a PC, and a 24 GHz radar. While all of the demonstrations have certainly been interesting to the folks both young and old in the pit area, the IMU in the toy jet and the radar demonstration have proven the most interesting. Clearly these bright young folks are interested in learning about the cutting edge technology available. It is great to see my company, Analog Devices, working as a supplier for this event. It is awesome to see the various teams that Analog Devices sponsors. These young folks will be the next generation of engineers that make things that are “Ahead of What’s Possible.”
ADI Demonstration Booth at FIRST in St. Louis
I have come away from these events with a renewed since of hope in our younger generation. I have also come away with a desire to educate folks about this great event that helps foster our next generation of engineers. I am thrilled to see industry veterans at companies from all over the industry mentoring these young folks and teaching them core principles not only to engineering but to life in general. These mentors pour so much of themselves into these young folks. I am grateful that there are folks not only willing to mentor, but also quite eager to do so. FIRST starts with the FIRST LEGO League Junior for kids as young as 6 years old. After experiencing FIRST these two weeks I plan to give my young children an opportunity to participate in this program. I’d like for them to have the opportunity to learn and grow as a part of this great program.
I have to wonder how many future engineers could be in this group that go on to work for the Googles and Apples of the world; how many may go on to work on high reliability parts for space? What grand innovations will these bright young minds dream up and make a reality during their careers? One thing is clear: FIRST is undoubtedly one of the most influential programs to foster and grow the next generation of engineers. This is the type of program that helps develop these young folks into our next generation of engineers. This program is also an example of how we as engineering professionals can help teach the next generation of engineers. This type of experience is a great teacher, not only to the young folks but to the older mentors and working engineers as well. There is a lot to learn all around from the FIRST program. I encourage you to take some time to do your own research to understand this amazing program at FIRST Inspires.org.