Robots are fun. Fun is hard. Therefore, robots are hard. And so is being on a FIRST Robotics Competition team. But being on a FIRST team is also about so much more than robots, and it's the non-obvious aspects of FIRST that keep us going back to the kool-aid.
What is this FIRST Robotics Competition?
First off, let me tell you what the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is all about. FRC teams (such as mine, team 4534 the Wired Wizards) are groups of 10 - 50 high school nerds who create a 120 pound robot every year to compete with and against other teams in annual competitions. The games are played on fields around the size of a basketball court and are like battle bots minus the chain saws. The competitions are a mixture of a superbowl and comic con: screaming fans cheering on their robots during close matches while team mascots dance to the Macarena and students run around frantically trying to fix their robot and put the wheels back on in time for their next match.
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This year, for the first time my team made it to the FIRST World Competition in St. Louis. We met geeks from around the world and roamed the streets of St. Louis chanting our team number. A FIRST motto is “More than robots,” and going to Worlds reminded me of the infinite ways that’s true. Robots are cool, but nothing can beat the whole package of being on a FIRST team.
Here are 5 ways that FIRST is more than robots.
1. Friends and Frenemies
By being on a FIRST team, you learn that people are interesting psychological phenomenons. When working closely with many variations of geeks while feeling the pressure of tight deadlines, you learn that opinionated high schoolers don’t always see eye to eye. (Really?) You learn that drama can come from unexpected places.
And you learn to always keep the end goal in sight, for the high of seeing your robot at competition justifies any lows along the road.
2. Invasion of the Punny Memes
As a student on a FIRST team, your pun and meme fluency will increase by 453.4%. Perhaps more. You will learn and start using obscure references from shows and movies you haven’t even seen. Countless inside jokes will be created, of which you will understand less than half. (All hail the seven buffalo!) You spend hours chatting with teammates over the internet about random topics, from psychology to music to digitally screaming “HYPE!” in all caps at each other over and over.
You can't hear anyone use the word "first" in a normal sentence without yelling "ayyy!" in your head.
3. Really, We Need Your Money
Here’s a 110% guarantee: At some point on your FIRST team, you will not know how you’re going to raise enough money to pay for your robot, competition registration, travel costs, and those wizard hats you really want to wear to competition. You’ll learn to put your pride aside and participate in shameless team-promotion as you ask anyone and everyone for money so you have enough dough to not starve during competition.
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You’ll learn how to use buzz-words adults like such as "STEM education " and "growing the community" and "supporting the next generation of innovators" to provide evidence about what a great cause they'd be supporting. And, somehow, you’ll always end up with just enough money to scrape by, (most of the time), thanks to the amazing generosity of your sponsors.
4. Squad of Hype for Life
You always knew the crazy existed inside your head, but at competition, you will let it out. You’ll walk the streets of strange cities chanting your team number over and over. You’ll try and start clap circles at school. You’ll ask like a general fool for FIRST and love every second of it.
You'll join your team’s hype squad for life.
5. Thinking of escaping FIRST?
And finally, just when you think you’ve graduated and will step back from FIRST for a little while, you learn that you can never really leave. As David Lavery of NASA so aptly said during his hilarious and brilliant speech during the mentor breakfast at Worlds:
FIRST is worse than the mafia. Once you join, you can never leave.
All the literal blood, sweat, and tears are worth it. You become a part of FIRST forever.