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The Engineering Mind

108 posts

When Mentors Learn

Posted by TheFeminineEngineer Employee Jan 15, 2018

Most of the time, FIRST is a fun way for me to volunteer my time to help create the future generation of engineers and to better the lives of young high school students in my local community.


But then there are those special days when I actually learn more than the students did. And on Saturday, it was one of those days.


When mentoring, I tend to gravitate towards the students that are struggling the most. Maybe I see my own timid self in them, maybe I just find joy in helping them achieve something they thought was impossible to surmount. Whatever the case may be, this year that resulted in taking charge of the CAD design team and guiding the climber subsystem team through the prototyping and designing process. Our climber team is in sort of a bind at the moment. They know exactly what we're doing for our climber and the concept is one we've stolen from last year's climber, so not much prototyping is involved. And since our mechanism relies on the cube lifter team's mechanism to be complete before we can even begin to assemble it, they're feeling pretty unproductive at this point.


This is where I would normally be able to say I gave them some side project and hooray everyone felt better and everything was rainbows and unicorns. But that would be lying. I'm not even 3 years into my career and about as many years into mentoring a robotics team, so I have exactly zero experience with managing a team. I tried bringing the team to the local tool shop to get some inspiration on how exactly to execute the part of the climber that actually grabs the rung, looking at different hooks, carabineers, and latches. I tried getting them all to Google some ideas. We watched videos of past years with similar climbing field elements. But nothing I did would get them thinking. Needless to say, by the end of Saturday our entire subsystem team left feeling uninvolved, unenlightened, and perhaps even dejected.


I was beginning to feel pretty terrible. Another day gone in the build season and we had accomplished just about nothing in our subsystem team other than "Look! I found last year's climber over here!" and "Let's use Velcro to attach it to the shaft again." Even Juan couldn't get them motivated to up and do something. The only part of the day in which they looked engaged was when we went to the machine shop to actually help the intake team with prototyping because they needed more than four hands. Why was I having so much trouble getting them excited about their system? And how much longer could they flounder before they lose interest in the team completely?


The nice part about mentoring an FRC team like ours is that there is usually a wealth of knowledge to be gained from other mentors, be it others on your team or others across the globe. Luckily, I didn't have to look far. I decided to turn to Kevin, an ADI engineer with plenty of experience leading teams between managing a team of engineers here at ADI and his numerous years as a Boy Scout leader.


He explained to me that when you are working with a team, regardless of what skill the task at hand requires, they will typically fall into one of four quadrants, and each quadrant requires a different coaching style for them to be as successful as possible.


Confident Competence - When you can give someone a task and they can go run with it without you worrying about them making too many mistakes along the way, that person is probably in this quadrant. These are the people that dive in head first and can be autonomous enough (and knowledgeable enough) to return to you once they've solved the problem at hand. Through most of my time mentoring the team, I've dealt with team members like this. These are the kids that are typically still trying to solve robots problems at home when the meeting is over, or that one programmer that decides to write a program to test the program he wrote because he didn't feel like typing in a bunch of random possible inputs. Very few people actually start here right out of school or when they first join the team.


Confident Incompetence - They'll dive in alright! But they'll ask you for a map and a GPS. Maybe they need a textbook or some other resource to learn more before they can start, assuming they know where their knowledge is lacking. If they are blissfully unaware of their knowledge deficiencies, they might charge forward so fast that they just run straight off the cliff because they thought they didn't need a map. Simply put, these people will have the confidence to jump in but they won't know where to start or might start in the wrong place. They need a little coaching to bring their knowledge up to speed, but once they're there you can let them go.


Competent, Lack of Confidence - To be honest, this is where I started in my career. Sure there were things I didn't know, but for the most part I knew what I was doing. But at a certain point, I realized that my input to a discussion was just as valid as the engineer with 20 years of experience sitting next to me and that it was worth speaking up about. People in the Competent Lack of Confidence quadrant know exactly what needs to be done. But they are too afraid to jump in and do it. This is where I feel like most new engineers tend to start. And to get them going you'll need to help them recognize their strengths before they truly blossom.


Lack of Competence, Lack of Confidence - This is where most rookies fall, and in many areas new engineers as well. They don't know where or how to start and usually either don't know enough to know where to ask for help or are too afraid to ask for help. Much like the Competent Lack of Confidence quadrant, they're quiet, and rarely attempt to add any input in a group conversation even if the room is dead silent. They require the most guidance to get them to the point where they can be autonomous. These are not the people whom you can just give a task and they will go run with it. This is where half of the Climber subsystem team falls, as half of them are brand new to the team.


That was my issue. I was trying to get these students going like they were in a Confident Competence quadrant when really the majority of them lacked both confidence and knowledge to get the job done on their own. Of course anything Juan or I tried wasn't going to work! With that in mind going into tonight's meeting, I'll have to come up with something different to do with them to keep them engaged.


It's situations like this that are the reason why I encourage everyone I meet to try mentoring a team, whether they have technical skills or not. Technical skills can be learned outside of robotics. But these soft leadership skills can only truly be learned with experience. It's much safer to try and fail in leadership on a robotics team than on the job. I really can't say it enough times, sometimes I think I learn more than the kids do on the team.




This blog is part of a series covering the 2018 season of the FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST POWER UP. Stay tuned for more updates, including coverage of the Championship Events in Houston and Detroit at the end of April! Get to know the ADI teams, learn more about our donation boards, and meet the employee mentors that make it all happen!

It's that time of year once again as thousands of high school students across the globe begin the scramble to design, build, and test a robot in 6 weeks. This year's challenge has just been released this morning and I'm just as excited for FIRST Power Up as a dog is for tennis balls.


You are doing doggo a heckin excite there fren!

Throw the ball already!


You can watch the game reveal video on the FIRST Robotics Competition YouTube page!


Rather than talk about the teams today, I wanted to take some time to introduce everyone to what ADI has to offer to give your team an advantage, and why you want to use them!


ADXRS450 Gyro Board - Available on FIRST Choice and for Purchase on AndyMark

This is the same gyro board we included in the Kit of Parts last year. Code to use these boards is already integrated into the WPI library, so you can plug it into your SPI connector on the RoboRIO and get started right away. We talked to several teams at Championship and saw that many had great results during autonomous using them last year. Using a gyro is an easy way to determine which direction your robot is pointing, making it great for performing turns during autonomous or keeping your mecanum drive robot facing in the correct direction while strafing. The ADXRS450 gyro board is a great place to start for teams that are brand new to the world of gyro heading on their robot.


ADIS16448 10-Degree-of-Freedom IMU Board - Available on FIRST Choice

Back again on FIRST Choice this year is the ADIS16448 industrial grade inertial measurement unit (IMU). If you really want to get precise motion control, the IMU is the way to go. Each unit is calibrated individually at the factory, meaning more precision for your robot. High vibration environments (like being mounted on a competition robot with motors and pneumatics and crashing into walls) can also lead to significant errors on less expensive gyros, however the ADIS16448 happens to excel at rejecting this influence - it was designed for industrial grade UAVs after all! All of that adds up to superior performance when it comes to helping your robot know where it's pointing. Code is available on github here courtesy of jchong and there is even a handy installer available for teams that are using LabVIEW.  In addition, we know teams have had issues with this board in the past, and we are pleased to announce that with the newest RoboRIO image, teams can expect improved performance from the IMU compared to previous years. This applies to all of our IMU boards regardless of when they were obtained.


The metric most teams like to use when selecting a gyro for their robot is drift. Let's explore what that means for your robot.


Most gyros, including the ADXRS450 and the ones inside of the ADIS16448 IMU, produce an output that has a unit of degrees-per-second. It's a measure of the rate of rotation in a particular unit of time t. The higher the number, the faster your robot is rotating. A gyro does not simply output the degrees you've rotated your robot. A gyro will take hundreds of readings over the course of a given time period, indicated by the purple, red, and green lines in the figure below. If you were to add each of those readings together, you end up with the actual change in angle that occurred during that set time period (one second in the example below). The calculus term for this is integration. For those who have taken calculus (or those of you "older folk" that remember your calculus classes "back in the day"), this is the same as calculating the area under the curve. This math is done for you in the WPI library and in the code linked above for the IMU.


When you first turn on the robot, the orientation you place the robot in will be set as 0 degrees. Think of this as your robot's idea of "due-north" or straight forward (for example, towards the opposing team's driver station).


Top is the front of the robot in this case


However, since no gyro is perfect, that direction will drift over time. Remember how we have to obtain the actual direction in degrees by adding every single sample together? Over time, every little error in each individual reading begins to add up. These errors could be from any number of different internal and external sources. (If you're interested in learning more about all of these error sources, you can check out this article.) The biggest contributing factor to this drift is the gyro's Bias Stability spec, which is a measure of how stable the gyro measurement is over a long period of time. If you were to leave your robot powered on for a full hour without moving it, the gyro value would read something very different from zero at the end of that hour.


Again, the top is the front of the robot


This is what teams typically refer to as gyro drift. Once you take into account the different error sources mentioned in the article linked above, teams can expect the IMU to drift somewhere between 20 and 30 degrees per hour. At first glance, that might seem like a lot of drift! But if you look at what this means over the course of a match, we see this drift is actually not so bad. If we assume your robot stayed powered on for a full 7 minutes before the match even started, your robot will think it's heading has only changed by about 3 degrees. By the end of the match, that number is closer to 4 or 5 degrees, which is much smaller and more manageable.


Now that all of you are experts in gyro drift (right?), you are armed with the knowledge to make the most epic autonomous routine ever!


This year we want to give a huge shout out to Samtec for providing the connectors on both of these boards as a donation to FIRST Robotics! Samtec offers a wide range of connector solutions, ranging from simple digital/analog I/O to RF and even optics. They have been a long-time partner for the iSensor product family, and we're excited to have them on board with this year's donations! You can check out their website here and their FIRST Kickoff blog post here.


Are you ready to POWER UP? Share your thoughts about the game reveal below or how you would solve this year's challenge. Be sure to follow The Engineering Mind for updates throughout the robotics season!




This blog is part of a series covering the 2018 season of the FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST POWER UP. Stay tuned for more updates, including coverage of the Championship Events in Houston and Detroit at the end of April! Get to know the ADI teams, learn more about our donation boards, and meet the employee mentors that make it all happen!

It can sometimes be a challenge to come up with good ideas to blog about each month.  I have typically pulled a lot from past experience, common customer questions, and interactions with coworkers.  While it seems like a potentially large pool of information to pull from it can be difficult at times to get that really good idea that makes a great blog.  As I was trying to coming up with that great topic this month it came to me that it would be a great series of blogs to combine two of the areas I have worked with here at ADI; high speed ADCs and radiation.  I've blogged quite a bit about various topics related to the high speed ADCs that we offer here at ADI.  I've also done a few blogs about radiation testing and how this is done at facilities like the one at Texas A&M University.  Why not combine the two topics and talk a bit about how radiation affects high speed converter operation.  In order to talk about those effects specifically though we must first take a look at what types of radiation effects we typically try to observe.  That leads me to the first blog in this series where I begin by looking at an overview of different radiation effects. You can find that on Planet Analog here: A Quick Overview of Radiation Effects. I encourage you to take a look and learn a little about radiation effects and prepare to see how these affect high speed ADCs in my next few blogs in the coming months.

In my last post I talked a bit about coding in Python for line regulation on an LDO.  In my latest installment on Planet Analog I talked a bit more about coding but focused on load regulation.  The two measurements are very similar so there was opportunity to re-use a lot of the Python code from the line regulation to do the load regulation.  Obviously some tweaks were required, but there was a lot in common between the two scripts.  I hope it helps to see how useful coding can be to help improve the efficiency in our tasks, especially in collecting data in the lab.  Check out my latest blog post on Planet Analog here: Load Regulation Measurement Coding in Python.

The last couple of blogs that I had written had me thinking about how coding (programming) skills have been valuable in my engineering career.  While by no means am I an expert at writing code, the little that I do know has proven quite useful.  I didn't fully grasp how useful it would be all those years ago when my graduate school advisor put an emphasis on coding.  He thought every EE should know how to write code.  I look at the engineering roles I work with regularly and see how many could not do their jobs without know how to code.  In applications engineering I am using it to automate bench measurements.  Similarly the product engineers that I know also do the same.  Test engineers have to write code for the ATE. The list goes on and on.  In that vein I thought I'd write a bit about the basics on a recent Python script to share with everyone. Take a look at my latest blog on Planet Analog: Line Regulation Measurement Coding in Python. Do you using coding in your daily functions?  How valuable is it for you?

I recently had a very interesting experience pulling an all-nighter to get some important testing performed down at the cyclotron at Texas A&M.  Do you remember pulling those long nights working on that critical project?  Perhaps you've even still had a few of those nights working as an engineer when a tape out date was approaching or a critical customer issue was pressing.  Take a look at my latest blog on Planet Analog Pulling an All-Nighter and hear a little about my recent experience.  I also encourage you to keep the folks that were in the paths of Harvery and Irma as well as those currently being affected by Maria in your thoughts and prayers.

I took a few months off in June and July due to moving to a new house.  I was back in August where I wrote about the continual learning process.  One of the examples I used was related to the usefulness of software on the job.  I am a tried and true 'hardware' guy but the more I work in the field of engineering the more I realize how important and valuable software can be.  I've had to continually learn on the job in many aspects, but software has definitely been a challenging one for me.  I encourage you to read more here: Learning Is Not Just for New Engineers.  Please also stay tuned as I'll have another blog post up soon during September.

Things are changing, they are changing very rapidly. You could apply this phrase to many different things in your life, and yes, it would be fine but I want to focus in the environment where engineers, in fact most professionals, spend a good amount of their time; at work.


In the work environment, engineers are applying their knowledge to advance existing technology, be it the World Wide Web, IoT or the way you ride your bicycle. All these improvements most certainly requires change. It can range from an adoption of new processes/technology to organizational approaches that aim at accomplishing desired product performance or functionality. But what they all have in common is the need to modify a behavior, the manner in which an engineer chooses to pursue and implement his/her ideas. It can be that tools once available to assist in a specific task do not exist or are no longer supported, forcing one to change the means used to accomplish a task. And in that, there’s a possibility that new knowledge is required, a long day of research or lecture depending on what the needs are. It is right at this point where tensions rise.



I can testify that changing is difficult, independent of how good it appears. But, what motivates me is when I perceive the benefits to me personally, to my coworkers and to the organization I am a part of. It is true that the global environment we live in requires us to constantly change, and if change doesn’t happen you’re left behind (I’ll leave this to your interpretation). But, it is not only the responsibility of the individual to pursue changes, rather the organization as a whole. The management team must provide the vision and the reasons why such changes are beneficial to each individual. The individual engineer must understand that change is inevitable, unless one is a conformist and has no desire for improvements of any kind. I cannot see personal growth without change, and that’s the reason I choose to always learn/change.


Nothing is perfect! Any change will be difficult, there will be mistakes. But, there should be a starting point, at the end of the day things will normalize. Engineers should understand this and not be afraid to voice their opinions about changes and what could be improved. Conformism should not be a part of anyone’s profession, it tends to delay outcomes and prevents change. Organizations should understand that any change needs reasoning and should help individuals see the benefits of it. Also, and this is applicable to both parties, the individual should know that change is possible and the organization should note that some individuals might not agree with their proposed changes. As an individual, I want to be prepared for all the new exciting things happening around me. I want to be able to enjoy every single bit of it while enjoying my life and those around me.


“At times of change, the learners are the ones who will inherit the world, while the knowers will be beautifully prepared for a world which no longer exists.” – Alistair Smith

I hope you enjoyed reading my last blog post on my first FIRST experience.  I wanted to go back and take a look at the event after the fact and explore a bit more about the demonstrations we showed while in Houston and Saint Louis.  Several days were exhausting and the entire two week stretch was pretty exhausting overall, but it was an incredible experience.  Take a look at my latest blog on Planet Analog where I explore more about the two weeks spent supporting FIRST for ADI.  You can find my blog here: A Look Back at Two Weeks of FIRST.

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks, but the FIRST Robotics regular season is finally complete. It was an exciting action packed week, and I sat down and talked to team members from all of our ADI teams in attendance.


4905 Andromeda One

Probably one of the most inspirational stories I heard that week was the incredible work that 4905 has been doing in Massachusetts. I spoke with Sophomore Eric about their MASS FIRST program, and I was just blown away by how much this team has accomplished in the short 4 years they've been around.


Kristen: What's one difficult challenge that you have encountered and overcome while on the team?


Eric: I haven't encountered any just yet, but a difficult transition is coming up for us with the last of our original members graduating off the team this year. I'll become one of the leads next year, and leading in their footsteps is a lot to live up to, and not having the original "experts" there to ask for help will be tough.


Kristen: It's certainly a difficult part of having a new team. My own team is now at a point where both first and second generation members have all graduated off the team, and we're kind of at a crossroads as to where to go from here. It's definitely a difficult transition for any team to make.

Can you tell me a little bit about MASS FIRST?


Eric: It started a while back when Dean Kamen visited one of our events and said that he wanted Massachusetts to be the first state with FIRST in every school district and we just took that challenge and ran with it. So we created MASS FIRST. We reach out to schools that don't have FIRST teams yet and offer mentorship and resources to get started. We've started 9 FLL teams in our area, mentored 2 new FRC teams including 5422 Stormgears. We've made connections with many many schools that are excited to get FIRST programs started at their schools and want our help mentoring them.


Kristen: Stormgears is another one of our teams too, so that's really cool!

One last question. How has FIRST changed who you are and how has it affected your life?


Eric: I wish I had joined earlier! Definitely one thing it has done for me is get me to go try things. I used to just have ideas, like oh that would be cool if you could do XYZ. But I would never actually go out and try to do it. Now I have the resources and the knowledge to go out and actually try some of these ideas out.


Andromeda One had a good run at the championship despite some struggles, finishing ranked 63 in their division and had a regular season record of 27-25-1.


5422 Stormgears

Speaking of Stormgears, they also had the opportunity to compete at St Louis! I spoke with the Stormgears last year at St Louis. I spoke with one of the original students that joined when the team was started two years ago about this year's robot design and their new project, StormNet.


One of the things they spent a lot of time on this year was actually their shooter. By the time they reached worlds they were on iteration 80-something at least they told me. They were still 3D printing new components and trying new ways to deflect fuel balls within the robot to make sure their feed mechanism would function as intended. But this is one of the challenges of engineering. Lots of testing until it's just right.


One student told me that the most unexpected thing he learned on the team was actually drilling holes and how much more is involved than just "point and go" when working with polycarbonate or metals. He was blown away by what goes into actually drilling a hole.


When I asked them about the team's biggest struggle, he launched into a discussion about StormNet. It started as an easy way to get 15+ sensors onto a robot with as little programming on the RoboRIO as possible. It also added some flashy LED functionality to their robot. One difficulty they had was in using ultrasonic sensors to help their robot orient itself. Unless they are used properly, the chirps of one sensor can be picked up and read by another, so what they did with StormNet was automatically to the sequencing of measurements so that readings wouldn't interfere with eachother. Their design is scalable as well, so if they need more sensors there is plenty of room to expand. It also taught them PCB cad software and practices as a cool bonus!


I also heard about their journey from after school program to entrepreneurship competition with their Steam Splash program. They took this "STEAM in a box" concept to Learn Launch, a competition where startups and small companies go for investment funding, and they made it all the way to the quarterfinals. One of the events they competed at was during a competition they were competing at with the robot, so it took a lot of coordination.


Overall, Stormgears had a good run with the robot also. They ranked 31 in their division at the end of qualifications and finished their season with a record of 27-23-0.


1153 Roborebels

1153 is actually a team ADI has supported for many years, and I got to talk to three of their students while at the competition, junior Jacob, sophomore Max, and freshman Diedre.


Kristen: How did you get involved with the team, what drew you to FIRST robotics?


Jacob: I'm just sort of a nerd in general, and I didn't want to do a regular organized sport, so robotics was just sort of an easy decision for me.


Max: I've been friends with two of the seniors for a while. When we were in middle school we were in a robotics club using the Lego NXT kits. When I became a freshman I debated between football and robotics, but I realized I could do both. My friends got me to join and I love it!


Diedre: My middle school tech teacher told me about the team. I'm also part of the STEM program at the school, which is a special set of graduation requirements on top of what any student has to complete. The team fulfills part of those requirements.


Kristen: What's something you didn't expect to get out of this program?


Jacob: A real sense of community, everyone gets along for the most part, and when we do have problems we learn to work through it.


Max: I have to agree with Jacob, it really feels like a family. We do a lot of stuff outside of school together like bowling.


Diedre: It's a really cool experience to learn so many new things, between all the different departments. That paired with the classes, it's a cool program.


Kristen: How has being on the team changed who you are?


Jacob: I was much quieter before I joined, and now I can communicate way better.


Max: It's really helped me with my self confidence, especially with that transition from middle school into high school. It's helped me really find who I am.


Diedre: Having the upper classmen there to guide you is really helpful in the transition. Like Max said before, this team is like a family.


Roborebels finished the event ranked 17 in their division, and finished the season with a win/loss record of 33-25-0.



254 Cheesy Poofs

A lot of people seem to think that the "big name" teams have some special secret to how they run and why they're so good. But after I sat down and talked to two of the 254 students, it became clear to me just how similar every team is. Even 254 is largely student-run, and it really is a well-oiled machine. (Sorry for the CHEESY pun! Okay, I'm sorry, I'll stop...) I sat down with Team President Griffin Soule, a junior Deans List finalist, and Outreach Head and Drive Team member Themis Hadjiioannou, a junior, to talk to them about the team.


Kristen: What brought you to the FIRST community and made you want to join 254?


Themis: In middle school I had done FLL and had seen FRC when I was shadowing at other high schools and thought it was the coolest thing ever. When I saw it I knew I had to do it, and it was a factor in deciding to go to my current high school after hearing they were a successful world class team.


Griffin: I'd come to a couple of open houses and had seen the robotics team a little bit and that kind of got me interested. I'd always been into engineering and STEM related activities. Then at the beginning of the year they had a big open house at the lab wher they show you all the different sub teams and you get a good feel for the team. I visited a lot of those and it really drew me in to see all the different activities they had going on.


Themis: Chezy champs also really drew me in, it's the off-season event that we put on for other teams. It was the first time I had ever seen FRC and I was just blown away.


Kristen: What was the most unexpected thing you've learned since joining the team?


Themis: I think there have been a lot of surprises. I think the thing that was the biggest was how strong that connection is between the students and the mentors. Having come from FLL, the mentors are more disconnected, they were basically only there to make sure we weren't being dangerous. In FRC, we joke around, and we learn a lot from them and we work together and I really appreciate that now.


Griffin: I couldn't have said it better myself. Another thing is the resources that are available to our team. When I first joined I was like "okay this is cool we have all this stuff" and then we get to competition and we were like "....whoa. Team 254 is actually really good!" I had no idea that our team was "among the best" when I first joined.


Kristen: Perfect segue to the next question. In FRC you have your teams that are traditionally very strong in the robot department, and that's really all the team focuses on, teams like 148. Then you have other teams which really take pride in their outreach programs, and sure they build great robots too, but their focus is outreach. You guys do both and that's hard to live up to. How do you guys handle that?


Themis: It's a group effort really. We have sub teams so that we can all focus on different projects. Being the outreach head, I really try to find other team members that want to do outreach, not just that they're being forced to do it. It's just a legacy on our team. I'm walking in the footsteps of Griffin who was Outreach head before me. We just pride ourselves in community outreach because we are such a lucky team, the resources we have access to are so unbelievable and we want to use that to help those that don't have it. The robot side, that's just why you join the team, that's the cool stuff! We have a lot of committed members, a lot of great mentors helping and teaching us about engineering and robotics and how to be a good team.


Griffin: I think there are a couple of things that really contribute to that. First, it's kind of expected. We don't shoot to get this many outreach events this month, we just do that. We're not aiming for the stars. We have been good at these things in the past and we just carry that forward. Another thing is we have a really good system down as far as team structure goes. We've honed in on a structure that works very well, not only for technical tasks but for outreach as well. I think the way work is distributed throughout the team is managed very well.


Kristen: I think that's beautifully exemplified by just how you guys run the pit as a team. I saw the mentors just standing back letting you guys run the show and everything was well orchestrated. The fact that a team this size can operate like that with so little mentor intervention is a testament to that I think.

For you guys personally, what has been the biggest challenge you have had to face since joining the team and how did you overcome that?


Themis: Time management!

Griffin: Yes!

Themis: I want to spend all my time at robotics whenever I get a chance to go to the lab. I don't mind it taking up all my free time because it's fun, but at the same time it's tough because I'll sometimes put school work aside to go to the lab and work on stuff for the team, which usually leads to a late night with homework. I'm sure it's the same for all other teams but it's tough to be a committed member while also being a full time student with other activities outside of robots like science fairs and classes for that matter. Since joining I will say I've significantly improved my time management as a result, but it's still a challenge.


Griffin: I completely agree with that. Once you get into leadership roles in particular it gets even harder because there's also this factor of "if I don't do it who will?" At the lab it's my job to coordinate the meetings before we start building and go over what we're going to work on, what we want to focus on, what the goals are, and if I'm not there I have to communicate that to someone to pass it off to so that the team can keep going. Sometimes you're the only one that knows how to do something, and if you don't stay involved or answer emails, no one answers emails for you so it can be tough.


Kristen: What is your favorite outreach event to put on? I know we talked a little bit about Chezy Champs.


Themis: My favorite is probably Engineering Day. It's our biggest event in terms of community involvement. We organize a one day camp where we invite middle schoolers in the area to come to a session that we host as students they build VEX IQ robots alongside 254 students and we do other engineering related activities like toothpick bridges, marshmallow towers, the works. Not only is it great team building for the students, but it's also a great introduction to engineering concepts for them. It generally gets a lot of attention, last year we got 50-60 students.


Griffin: I was hoping you wouldn't pick that one! I can pick another though. I love the Bay Area Science Festival. It's sort of your general outreach event where we set up the robot and a booth and answer questions, but it's a huge event that takes place in the San Francisco Giants stadium so the amount of traffic we get is crazy. It's a great experience for the public because they get to see our robot along with other FIRST teams and other STEM and art activities, but it's also great for our students because it's awesome to see what others have set up and explore the stadium in a way you wouldn't normally get to do if you went to a normal Giants game.


Themis: I want to add another one I enjoy that I started this year after volunteering at a program called Sunday Friends. Sunday Friends is an event where they host activities for families to do that are underprivileged at local elementary schools. I went as part of my hours requirement because our high school really encourages volunteerism. But I wound up loving the charity and what it achieves so much that I went back more and more. One day I thought of bringing robotics to these Sunday Friends days. We've done it 3 times now and we bring our FRC robots and our VEX robots and let the kids take a closer look and interact with them. We try to inspire them that while they may not be in the best situation right now, they can do this one day too, it's approachable, we're just high school students, and if we can do it you can do it too someday.


Kristen: Last question. How has being on the team changed your life?


Griffin: I think it definitely checks some of those "boxes" off like time management, working with others both small and large teams. It's super impactful in that respect but in the long term I think it's opened a lot of doors. It's not only given me the opportunity to work with others on a big team but I've also been presented the opportunity to get scholarships for colleges and it's helped me make connections and meet lots of people. It's set me up for success both for college and beyond.


Themis: I fully agree with all of that. I've definitely met a lot of awesome people both on our team and on other teams and we keep in touch. I've met so many awesome role models, a lot of world class mentors and how many people they've reached and helped. I aspire to be like them. I've also learned a lot about engineering and I think this has prepared me well for that career path. I've become a lot more responsible and mature and robotics has helped me through that.


Griffin: I think my experience has been impactful because of the leadership opportunities that I've been presented, and through working with kids and with team members I've learned how to communicate well and how to be a cool leader and an effective leader. Not just being a boss but being a leader.


Team 254 finished 2nd in their division and were selected by the #1 seed, 2767 Stryke Force, to be part of their alliance. Together they advanced all the way to Einstein in St Louis and they took home the gold, winning it all in the finals. Team 254 will advance with their alliance to the Festival of Champions at the end of July, where they will face the winners from Houston in a battle for the title of World Champion in Manchester, NH.

I had the opportunity over the past two weeks to attend the world championships in Houston and in St. Louise for FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).  This was my first experience and I definitely came away with a different perspective. I was amazed at every level of the championships from FLL (FIRST Lego League) up to FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition).  The intelligence, talent, and respect demonstrated by these young folks was super impressive.  You have probably read many great blogs from TheFeminineEngineer here on EngineerZone related to FIRST and I encourage you to continue reading her great blogs.  I also had some time to recently write about my first FIRST experience (ha ha, pun intended) on Planet Analog.  You can find that here: Planet Analog Blog - FIRST.  I encourage to take a closer look at this great program and how it is fostering interest in STEM in your younger folks.  Who knows where these young folks will end up and what innovations will occur thanks to their ingenuity.

It’s one thing right after another when you have two Championship events to go to, we've been going non-stop since last Tuesday night! With Houston done, let’s take a look at how our ADI teams did, while I sit on this long plane ride.


2655 Flying Platypi – Roebling Division

Considering we only sent a third of our team up, I’m so proud of our students and how much they got accomplished. Despite not having any practice for a couple of weeks, our driver Seth did a great job driving the robot on the field. We went into this competition expected to finish 53rd out of 60+ teams. But instead we beat all odds and finished 19th in our division. And while the team didn’t get picked for eliminations, our students have returned with this extra vigor to do better next year. Some of our students got to meet Woodie Flowers himself. Seeing these kids get inspired like this is why I love volunteering for the team and with the program in general. There’s this sense of community and cooperation that I think even many adults are missing these days. The kids that come out of this program leave with much more than the technical skills to build a robot. They leave with a whole new network of friends and a spark that is impossible to put out, and a desire to change the world. Platypi finished their season with a record of 26-29-2 and they are ready to take on projects in the off season.


900 Zebracorns – Newton Division

I talked a good deal with these students and mentors, since I usually don’t get the opportunity to talk to other North Carolina teams at events when I’m wearing my referee stripes. The more students I meet, the more I’m amazed at what they can do, and what they CHOOSE to do in their free time for their team. One of the Zebracorn students showed me their “Zebravision” setup. A student wrote what essentially amounts to a video game with a physics engine and everything to let their driver practice on a full field with simulated matches and all, using an Oculus Rift. They explained to me how they were able to test out different controller setups and find what worked best for their driver that year, even without enough space for a full practice field. Their robot even behaved just like it would on the field. I managed to do a match where I scored 53 fuel points! For event performance? Zebracorns were selected as part of the 7th alliance, selected as a backup. The alliance of 4 robots came so close to breaking free of the quarterfinals, going to a tiebreaking match after one win each with alliance 2. These matches were unbelievably close! But they were knocked out in the tiebreaker. The team finishes the season with a record of 34-34-0.


Team 1577 SteamPunk – Carver Division

Let me start by saying these students have spunk! They immediately found our booth in the service center and welcomed all of us into their family with open arms. They even took one of our drawstring backpacks and taped it to their robot to show our logo with pride. Their robot is just as amazing as the students that built it. Their floor gear intake system allows them to have some of the fastest cycle times I saw on the Carver field. The intake works like a scoop, so all they have to do is corral the gear into their robot, then drive off while the rollers pull it into position so they can lift it up as they reach their target gear lift on the airship. Then they quickly place the gear and it’s rinse and repeat. In their last qualification match I watched as their alliance earned them two rotors in autonomous (which has only happened in less than 1% of matches by the way and requires a coordinated effort from all alliance members), all four rotors by the end of the match, and the 40kPa fuel pressure bonus. It was an amazing match. We were all hugging and cheering and high-fiving at the conclusion of the match. For coming from such a conflict-torn area of the world, it was so inspiring to see how much optimism and excitement these students and their mentors had. What an amazing team! SteamPunk finished ranked 41, but they were quickly selected in the round 2 picks, rightfully so! Their alliance, Number 5, was knocked out in the quarterfinals, but darn it if they didn’t try their hardest. Defense really got in the way of the gear game for this team, and it was quite the nail-biter. I still got an Israeli flag to hang proudly in my cube, and I can’t wait to see them next year! Team 1577 finished their season with a record of 34-28-0.


2471 Mean Machine – Carver Division

SteamPunk wasn’t the only ADI team in the Carver Division. I got to meet our Camas LTC team as well! This team comes from the Pacific Northwest District, which has been in the district formant for 4 years now. And I have to say this team has the coolest team shirts around.

24 Hours a Day, 7 Days a Week, 1 Build Season

After negotiating a trade with one Juan’s Flying Platypi shirts to get one, I sat down and talked to the team about their start and their robot. Their host high school’s mascot is the Paper Makers, and features a paper making machine. When the team started, they made the machine their team mascot, and named it the Mean Machine, since a paper making machine can definitely do some damage if you get caught in the wrong place. Since starting, they now cover 4 area high schools and home school students. Their robot is a marvel of engineering up close – it’s no wonder they took home an Excellence in Engineering award! And when the robot rains down fuel in autonomous, it’s such a beautiful sight. It launches fuel faster than most of the robots on the Carver field. And their driver does an amazing job maneuvering this beast. The team was selected by alliance 3 in the 1st round picks after finishing quals ranked 26, the first non-seeded team to be picked in the alliance selections on Carver on Saturday. But here’s where it gets interesting: PNW district is just as tight-knit as NC, and the alliance they had to face had 3 of their friendly teams from PNW. As I chatted with the team they were all so torn. Would be AWESOME for us to go on, but dang it that’s 3 PNW teams that can’t go on! FIRST really does bring a large sense of community, especially in this district system. The PNW alliance won in the tiebreaker match, so while 2471 was knocked out of the race to Einstein, we returned to their pit and watched the PNW alliance compete in the semifinals. Team Mean Machine finished their regular season with a record of 42-27-1.


ADI Booth at the Robot Service Center

We had a TON of traffic at our booth in the FRC pits. Seeing how engaged and knowledgeable the students were that stopped by has only served to boost my faith in these kids that when I’m old and decrepit they will continue to change the world we live in for the better. I made so many new friends in this FIRST family and I’m so proud to represent ADI and FIRST together as an alumni. I can show these kids that you too can follow your dreams and that spark if you put the work in. Which, if you can build a robot in 6 weeks, nothing is impossible.


Gearing up for St Louis

I’m now sitting at the Washington Regan airport, anxious to see all of our St Louis teams this week. If you’ll be in St Louis, come check out the booth in the Robot Service Center, found in the FRC pits next to Pit Admin in the convention center main hall downstairs. It’s going to be a fun event, and I’m hoping to get some student perspectives for you all from our New England teams. Take a look at who we will have and where they will be:

254 Cheesy Poofs – Daly Division

1153 Wapolle RoboRebels – Carson Division

4905 Andromeda One – Carson Division

5422 Stormgears – Tesla Division


Not attending? You can check out the live streams on for each division starting Thursday, and the Einstein field on Saturday afternoon!



This blog post is part of a series about the 2017 FIRST Robotics Competition season, FIRST Steamworks. We'll have weekly updates during build season from ADI FRC Team 2665 Flying Platypi, and updates from many of our ADI teams performances during the competition season. Stay tuned until the end for coverage of BOTH Championships in Houston, TX and St. Louis, MO in April!

Welcome back to the third (and last) part in my “How to eat an Elephant while you drink from the Firehose” series. In this installment, we’ll be talking about “drinking from the firehose.”


To give a little background to this quote, consider the old adage that’s been around for a while: “Learning this is like drinking from a firehose.” Effectively – what’s being said by this quote is that learning a particular topic is the equivalent of having information blasted at you continuously with no real way to absorb content on your own.


It reminds me of a (somewhat) funny story from a number of years ago. Some friends and I were driving in a car in Wyoming, where I was crammed in the back, passenger side, next to two others. Since we were rather too close for comfort in the back, I was forced to lean toward (and out) the window. As we picked up speed along the highway, I noticed a peculiar sensation: every time I stuck my head outside, I actually had a difficult time breathing. Ironic, I thought, that in a location with so much free space and open air, I’m actually having a difficult time breathing when we’re moving too fast.


This is a perfect metaphor for what I’m talking about.

Learning certain topics in Engineering can feel so overwhelmingly complicated (because of the rate at which the content is being thrown at you) that you feel as though you can’t catch your breath.


It’s a very humbling experience, but also incredibly frustrating, as (if you’re anything like me) being able to learn, integrate, and explore complex topics, quickly, is what Engineers should be able to do, right?


Don’t panic. There are two methods you can use to stem the flow and give yourself an advantage for being able to handle what’s coming at you. The first method is to use a sequential process.  Think of it like the figure below:


On the first pass you learn a small portion, followed by another small portion on the next pass, followed by another small portion on the next pass, etc.  until you’ve got the whole thing. The one key to this is you have to remember to ask LOTS of questionsIt’s very similar to reading a technical book – you should use regular intervals to review what you’ve learned. The advantage to this method is that you get into the details quickly, which can save time. The disadvantage is that you can sometimes miss the high-level purpose behind all of it.


The second method is to use an iterative process.  Think of it like the figure below:



In this case, you should get the whole thing first, even if it looks completely fuzzy and very unclear. Then you refine the details and go over it again, and you keep repeating this process until you’ve got everything in clear detail. The advantage to this is that you get to see both the high-level and low-level details, the disadvantage is that it takes time to use this method. Likewise, be sure to understand the high level first before trying to refine the details.


My guess is; most of us will use a variety of styles to drink from the firehose, and maybe you’ve thought of or have your own method. In either case, hopefully this will provide you with some new ways you can learn complex subjects and add a few new skills to your repertoire to help you on your way to becoming a great engineer.


As always, if you like reading my blogs, be sure to check back or Follow The Engineering Mind, and don’t hesitate to comment below if you have questions.  ‘Til next time! 


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As I got stuck with a tough question in EngineerZone, the proverb “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going” came to my mind. There are times when we face tough challenges in our life. It may be at work, in our homes or even anywhere. But how can we, “the tough,” get going when the going gets tough?


I would say, "Just be TOUGH."


Tenacious   –   Be determined and remain strong whatever the situation is. These are just challenges that we can                               surely conquer. Face it with courage and keep in mind that everything has an end.

Optimistic   –   Always think positive! Surround yourself with positive thoughts, people and things. It’s easier to get                               through tough times when surrounded with positivity.

Upright        –   Think straight and plan the necessary actions that you can do for the situation. In case the first one                               fails, there’s still many that you can try.

Grateful      –   Be thankful that we faced such challenges and that it made us learn and grow. After all, we learn                               through experience.

Humble      –   Recognize the people who helped you get over these tough times. A simple “Thanks!” would mean a                               lot. Also, don’t forget to return the favor by helping others that are in need.


By thinking of several solutions for the tough question in EngineerZone and by enjoying a cup of coffee and some snacks with my friends at work; I came up with the best answer that will make me, “the tough,” get going.

Welcome back to the second part in my “How to eat an Elephant while you drink from the Firehose” series.  I know I’ve been away, but I hope you’re eager for the exciting adventure we’re going to have for the next few installments. Let’s get started.


In this blog, we’re going to be talking about “Eating the Elephant.” If you’re reading this in a different language, my apologies on the possible mis-translation. In some way, shape, or form, many of us have heard the adage: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” That’s really at the heart of this installment.


So what are we really talking about when we use this phrase, and how does it apply to a career in Engineering?  Think of it like this: every year there is a slew of new (advanced, and sometimes mundane) tech that makes it to market. For a lot of us, what we’re seeing is novel and completely new. However, you have to also consider: there were probably a considerable (and sometimes outright ridiculous) number of man-hours that went into that tech.


Some companies work for years on a development, yet by the time it comes to market, most aren’t aware of the timeline or the amount of blood, sweat, and bacon went into getting things to the front line. I say all of this to make my point: you will be part of bringing that product to market in some fashion, and the tasks you will be handed will feel both overwhelming and intimidating both in quality and quantity. But fear not – like any seemingly impossible task, there’s a very simple three-step solution: 


Break it down into more manageable chunks with specific timelines and very specific deliverables.


Develop a laser focus.


Learn to prioritize.



Here’s one example you might consider:

Say for instance you’ve been tasked with doing the evaluation for a new feature set on the part you’re working on, you’ve got six months, and you’ve got 17 different areas to test (along with a small-scale characterization procedure).  This is an exaggerated example, but things like this do happen. Okay, so you’ve already panicked, cried, and now you’re ready to get to work. As mentioned above, let’s apply the three-steps and see what comes out.


You have 17 tasks – so the first step would be to break down each task based on timeline and an understanding of the deliverable. This is a pretty important step: make sure you understand the deliverable you’re being asked to produce at the end of the task. Whether it’s hard data, or a simple “yes it works/no it fails”, be sure to know what you’re doing. Likewise, know the timeline you have for producing said deliverables.


Second, develop a laser focus. There are a ridiculous number of articles, books, and webinars on how to develop solid focus, so I’ll leave out my two cents.


Lastly, learn to prioritize. The simplest idea behind this is: follow the signal path. If my black box is made of two sections, A and B, I may be tempted to work on section B (especially if it’s neater tech), but if I can’t guarantee that my A section works, I could be leading myself into a trap. Likewise, learning to prioritize will help you develop better timelines – based on what’s important, and what may take longer based on experience.


Keep in mind: this last one you may have the least control over. Scheduling conflicts, delays, and customer deadlines can and will shift the focus of what you’re working on, and you may need to jump to a different task. Likewise, some of the most exciting things that you could work on may get cut, both time-wise and/or actually removed and handed to others. Be both flexible and rigid – focus on the task at hand, but keep in mind things can (and probably will) be re-prioritized at times. Don’t take it personal – it’s never personal, that’s just life.


I hope you enjoyed learning just one way to eat an Elephant. Be sure to tune in for my next blog talking about how to drink from the firehose and this time I promise you won't have to wait too long. 


As always, if you like reading my blog articles, be sure to check back or Follow The Engineering Mind, and don’t hesitate to comment below if you have questions.