Monday, July 15, 2013

Mason Markee - This Is How I Work

In this installment of "How I Work", we're featuring a mentor that has been on competitive robotics teams since he was in middle school. Mason Markee of FRC#118, The Robonauts, was a student leader on the team when he was in High School and came back after college to work at NASA, and became one of the adult leaders of this powerhouse FRC team. This past season he was best known for his iconic mustache that led to a few epic pranks at the FRC World Championship. Now let's hear from him on his job at NASA and his dedicated involvement with educational robotics.

[Responses from May 22, 2013 ]

Name: Mason Myles Markee
CD Username: MasonMM 
Current Gig/Job: Robotics Engineer at The NASA Johnson Space Center
Alma Mater/Degree: The University of Texas at Austin; B.S. Mechanical Engineering
Current Team(s): 118, The Robonauts
Former Team(s): 118, The Robonauts
Location: Houston, TX
Hobbies: Travel, Live Music

What inspired you to do what you do?
As a young kid, I was enamored with creating, building, and taking things apart. I went through phases of LEGOs, Erector Sets, wood working, and RC cars. Before I knew what engineering was, I always wanted to grow up to be an inventor. In middle school I joined a BEST Robotics team which primed me to join a FIRST team when I reached high school. I spent four years working on The Robonauts as a student and really found a calling during those years. I captained the team for a year, coached for two seasons, and presented for the Chairman’s Award three times and twice at Championships. I learned the significance of doing things right. I discovered the rewarding value of mentoring younger students and became a true believer in the importance of robotics education and changing our culture. I think it was those experiences that motivated to become a mentor as an adult bigger kid.

What is your day job, and how’d you get there?
I work in a research and development robotics lab as a mechanical engineer, specifically concentrating on actuator design. Our group focuses on developing new systems for space and terrestrial applications. The Space Exploration Vehicle and Robonaut2 are two of our larger projects, though we have many other products. I started as a co-op at JSC my 3rd year of university and had the opportunity to work in mission control. I transferred to the robotics group the next semester. I ended up taking off three semesters from school and working in the robotics group during those times. After graduating, I was given a full time job offer.

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
In 2008, 1114, Simbotics, built a dominate yet simple machine that I have always had a robot crush on. ( Many of the features that I believe are crucial to a successful and competitive robot are influenced by this machine.
  • Use a simple and reliable drive train 
  • Keep the manipulators protected behind the bumpers 
  • Always pick up the game piece with rollers 
  • Maximize the autonomous points scored 
  • Minimize the time to score a game piece

What apps/software/tools can't you live without? (Work/Robotics/Home)
I do all my CAD work in Pro/E. Of course it has its quirks, but it’s a limitless and powerful tool for designing robots. I’m a big fan of MATLAB and the flexibility it brings for making programs and crunching numbers. I use Excel or Google Spreadsheet for just about everything else in life. It’s perfect for being my go to calculator, making to-do lists, designing gearboxes, planning travel, and setting up a schedule. Most important to me our my Moleskine notebooks that I always carry - I constantly have to notate and doodle to make up for my extreme forgetfulness.

What's your workspace setup like? (Work/Robotics/Home)
At work I’m in an open lab complete with work benches, scattered tools, robot bones, and a dozen other engineers. It’s noisy, chaotic, and where the magic happens. We do design, testing, and buildup of many of our projects in this lab. There’s also a fleet of Syma S107G RC Helicopters on standby for office chopper duals. My desk remains an array of old data sheets, text books, the machinery’s handbook, notes, tools, parts, and safety glasses. 

The “real work” desk

The Robonauts have an incredible work space located in a high bay next to the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory used to store and construct space station mock ups. I spend my time working at any of the open computers, on the work tables, or in the machine shop. It’s a communal environment so personal space and belongings are limited.

Robonauts worksite, mid build season

I try to disconnect when I’m at home. When I need to work, my preferred method is to use my aging 13” Macbook on the couch.

What do you listen to while you work?
Follow me on Spotify and find out. I constantly need a flow of upbeat music through my headphones to keep on track. I jam mostly to indie/alt rock, but go through phases of hip-hop, country, and classic rock.

What’s your schedule like during build season?
Generally, we have full team meetings from 5-9pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and meet 12-9pm on Saturdays from Kickoff to Championships. This ramps up a bit before deadlines and big events. I stay late until at least midnight most nights, and work at least two extra days a week. Between my job and robots it was well into February before I had a full day off this season. It’s an intense schedule, but it’s what it takes to maintain our program and bring life to our team’s vision of a quality machine. The results are well worth it as our students experience the dedication it takes to build an incredible product. During the season I float between a lot of different roles including working with my subsystem on chassis design, machining parts, managing robot integration, and working with the chairman’s group.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Growing a mustache…. And consequently shaving a mustache off.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Find your passion. I’m convinced that with determination and hard work you can accomplish most anything, but it takes a passion for what you’re chasing to keep you ever-motivated and enthusiastic. 

Oh! And, in 2011, Team RUSH and Team Pink both recommended going with an 8WD. I thought that was pretty good advice. I’ve been really happy following that tip.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Late night drive thru at Taco Bell.

Fill in the blank. I'd love to see ________ answer these same questions.
Tyler Holtzman from 2056. I’ve got a huge level of respect for the program that guy is running and machines they are building.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”  - Leonardo da Vinci

1 comment:

  1. One of the perks of mentoring a FIRST team is getting to work alongside people like Mason.


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