The last six weeks have been the fastest few weeks of this new semester that I am currently in. FIRST Robotics season had started again and I tagged along with two friends of mine, Zach and Jason, to mentor high school students at Hamilton High School in Chandler, AZ. The team number for those of you interested in 698, which is not that far away from 637 the team that I was on in 2006.
It was interesting being back in a High School. First and foremost because I had not realised how much I had grown up in just two years of University, and how different everything was. I forgot all about the scheduled classes with bells to signify when to go the next class, the weird schedules whereby classes shift around depending on the day, and various other oddities (the chairs for example are a lot smaller, and have desks attached to them). When I say I had not realised how much I had grown up, I mean that in the worst possible way. While me and my friends are able to joke around when we need to get something done we can sit down and get it done. Most of these students would sit around and joke and would not be able to get anything done no matter how long you gave them, they needed serious directions and to be told exactly what to do. Micromanaging in this environment is an absolute must. As for the differences, I am in University that means I get to decide if I got to class or not, I get to decide what classes I take, and I have to keep track of my schedule because my classes are not going to be offered one after the other, and there is not a single bell or paging system in the building.
Team 698 was off to a rocky start this build season, for various reasons, but the main issue was that the leader of the team was not leading but instead was trying to build the entire robot by himself, thereby killing team morale, and their reasons for even working, as everything they'd come up with would not be good enough. Once this was rectified and the team's mentors including myself started to pull the team in the right direction everything started rolling.
Tutoring people in high school is actually an awesome experience, and while I generally hate teaching people (Google is your best friend) I found that I enjoyed working with the students. Even if they could be a little childish, easy to derail and get off track from the task at hand. That being said, I have a much greater respect for my High School teachers now that I have gone through what they have to go through every single day. That is no easy task and it takes a lot of energy. The students in Robotics are probably a different breed though and they were more eager to learn and build new ideas than probably most other high school students.
The end result is that the robot was shipped. There are still some things that need to be worked on, but for now there is a small break before the Arizona FIRST Robotics Regionals. If you get the chance to be a mentor on a FIRST Robotics team I would totally suggest it. It is absolutely fantastic and more people should get involved. When I was a student and on the FIRST Robotics team it was an absolutely exhilarating experience, and something that even to this day I still remember vividly. I may have had some major arguments with people on the team (most notably my Physics teacher at the time), but we worked through them, and it is to this day that I remember something my Physics teacher, Mr. Giraud, said to me:
"You can write software expecting the hardware to be perfect, unfortunately hardware is not perfect and you have to fix it in code." (May not be exact, but the basic gist is there)
That has stayed with me, and it is something I will probably always remember. It has certainly changed the way I program for embedded devices.