Finding My Niche | Teen Ink

Finding My Niche MAG

December 9, 2022
By Anonymous

The robot drove back to collect the remaining two balls. Finally, it was at the correct angle. This time, as it approached the goal in the center of the field, I could tell that it was going to work.

At the start of every FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) match, robots operate without human input, attempting to shoot as many balls into the goal as possible. It had taken a lot of effort in my junior year on my school’s team, but we had finally gotten the autonomous modes working. We had achieved the maximum of five balls. Autonomous modes were the culmination of all the software I developed for the team. I was the only student working on code and didn’t have FRC-specific experience. I had to learn as I went, using a combination of old code and documentation. I programmed the logic to coordinate subsystems, translate pre-programmed autonomous paths into motor velocities, and properly correct for errors with control loops.

I’m proud of how much I contributed to the team during my junior year; however, it wasn’t easy to get to that point. Back in my freshman year, I was not as involved as I wanted to be. I felt underqualified and struggled to proactively ask to help — I usually ended up observing.

In my junior year, I wanted to become an active contributor. There was little veteran experience on the team after one-and-a-half seasons were canceled, giving me an opportunity to step into a more impactful role. Our team had decided on an overall robot design, and it was time to digitally model every part. A week in, the four people doing the most work were all sick, which put me in a position to step up — I designed two critical robot subsystems. When I made mistakes, my peers helped solve the problem instead of blaming me and taking over. Every day, I had a clear purpose and left having contributed to the team’s success. At that time, it was the

most fun I had on the team.

When we moved on to physically assembling the robot, my impact shrank. I didn’t want that

trend to continue. I knew that assembly was not my strength, but programming was: I could contribute to designing the software that would bring our complex robot to life. When the robot was almost complete, I knew I had to take the initiative and put myself forward, something that had been hard for me in the past. When I did, I was immediately put on the two-person software team: a new mentor and me. Together, we were able to get the robot driving with teleoperated human input, and all the moving parts synchronized to pick up and shoot the balls. Finally, we programmed routines to automatically shoot with the correct trajectory and velocity based on vision processing and completed the autonomous modes.

I love programming for the cognitive challenge and tangible rewards. The feeling of solving a particularly difficult problem is unparalleled. There is something so satisfying about working through the logical steps to make a machine function as I want it to — it is exhilarating.

Working on the robot code for my team gave me an opportunity to do what I love with real stakes. Everything had to work with no issues, lots of features needed to be added, and time was very limited. The pressure only increased my enjoyment.

I have finally discovered my niche on the team, where my interests and aptitude meet the team’s needs. I have a voice and can meaningfully contribute to our success. I have learned what it means to be on a team: working together to achieve a goal, making connections, and having fun along the way. Now, I know the value that I bring and am ready to push us to new heights. I hope to help new team members find their own niches.

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