NYC FIRST launched our inaugural Youth Council in February 2021. We are driven to provide a space for our community members to weave their insights across our programs and initiatives. We believe their voices matter and this was an opportunity for us to deeply connect with them and make a positive impact, especially in a year that’s made it challenging for our teams to actively participate in our programs.
Our Youth Council Members kicked off their session with a “Letter to Our Rookie Self Series” in which they curated content / letters to their rookie selves. We hope that their advice and insights is able to support you on your journey.
My FIRST robotics team consisted of all boys, and then there was me. This shouldn’t be a reason for you to opt out of the fun and gritty stuff and just do the ‘girly’ job. My advice: Step up, find your confidence and share your ideas. You shouldn't just be okay with being the note-taker, be the person saying the ideas that need to be written down. My second piece of advice: Learn, try, and then probably fail (but that’s ok!!) Pick yourself up and do it again. And lastly, EXPERIMENT! Test stuff out, fiddle around with the tools and materials. Make something weird, then break it down, build something else.
I wish that when I started I knew it would be a learning experience in every aspect. I learned that figuring out how to make friends in the team and communicate with them was going to be a challenge in itself. My team is relatively new with few years of experience in FRC and navigating all the rules and organizing work was a responsibility I had to take on along with the mentors and my seniors. Although it was a challenge figuring it out, I definitely appreciated it and it taught me lessons first-hand under pressure.
Some rookie mistakes to avoid are not to shy away from opportunities, whether they are difficult or not. You will always learn from every challenge you take on and every mistake you make; what you don’t know now, you will know later if you try. Steps someone should take to learn the ropes is to learn as much as you can from seniors. Instead of trying to take on any problem alone, your team and your seniors are there to help you. Mentors and seniors are always ready to give advice and always willing to help if you ask. They’ve helped teach me how to use certain tools, how to email local businesses for support, and how to communicate with team members and cooperatively work with them. It’s also important to participate in any sessions or programs offered by FIRST that interest you.
I know you currently fear making mistakes and wonder what others will think. But because your four years will just fly by, savor these moments and don’t let fear conquer them. Your first CAD chassis looks awful, but it is because of those mistakes that you now lead today’s designers. Put your ideas forth and don’t be afraid to make errors, because those wrong answers will lead you to the right destination. As the amazing inventor Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that will not work.”
Another piece of advice: Connect with your community of robotics scholars. They are there to help you and are a great support system for later years, even past your high school career. Become integrated with those around you and you will have a more meaningful impact on your community.
As you start your first season in FIRST, I want to write this letter to help you avoid some of the ‘rookie’ mistakes. As a rookie member, you might feel unwelcome. As a new member, you might find it difficult to fit-in even with a very welcoming team. But this is normal, understand that joining a new community is always uncomfortable but once you start spending more time with your new community you will find that it fits you, and this is true with FIRST.
At FIRST, everyone is welcoming and you will find friends from all around the world who are the same as you. And to my second tip which goes hand-in-hand with the first one is patience. No matter how many times I can say this, “Patience is always the key”. There are many, many times in robotics where patience is very important. From my experience, I can’t even count how many times I wanted to take the robot and just throw it out the window, but what helped me focus and keep working is patience and knowing that the robot will eventually work. Also, solutions will usually come to you in moments where you are taking a walk after being tired of something not working. My third tip is commitment. I think the success of every team depends on the individuals and their commitment. I highly recommend that you put a lot of time and effort into robotics. Although, I don't recommend placing robotics before your schoolwork, sometimes, especially near competitions, you are gonna have to sacrifice a lot of your free and school time to ensure that the robot and the team are ready for the competitions. That being said, I think your commitment will grow as you start enjoying robotics and finding that the work you do in robotics is enjoyable and worth it.
Besides some of these tips, there are some things that you need to avoid and make sure you don't do. You should be open-minded and respectful because everyone has different knowledge and you should learn to respect each person's ideas and thoughts. In robotics, this is known as Gracious Professionalism. This idea of Gracious Professionalism was founded by Woodie Flowers which he used to describe FIRST. Woodie Flowers believed that members in FIRST should be respectful and professional because FIRST is a place for everyone to learn and grow and as much as it is a competition, it is not Battle Bots. You should be open-minded and willing to learn because FIRST is an amazing program/community where you can learn many, many lessons that will help you.
Finally, I hope you enjoy your time in FIRST. You should know that FIRST is a global family that you will always have a chance to participate in even after graduating. On the other hand, I might have not covered everything in this letter such as the Water Game. But I can guarantee that you will eventually learn everything and become an expert. One final tip is to always fight for a Water Game :).