Monday, December 23, 2019

Eric Leifermann - This is How I Work

This week we are hearing from Eric Leifermann, mentor of team 2826 Wave Robotics. Read our interview with Eric to learn more about him! 

[Responses from November 13, 2019] 

Name: Eric Leifermann
CD Username: Eric:Leifermann
Current Gig/Job: Mechanical Applications Engineer at RB Royal.
Alma Mater/Degree: BS in Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Technological University
Current Team(s): 2826 Wave Robotics

Former Team(s): 93 N.E.W Apple Corps 01-05, 857 Superior Roboworks 07-10
Location: Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Hobbies: board games, sports mainly football, soccer, and hockey, but will watch baseball and basketball as well, woodworking, music, watching my 1 year old son learn and problem solve, reading, movies and tv, my dogs Gotham (rottweiler) and Wicket (pitbull).

Are you an alumni: Yes, I am 

What inspired you to do what you do?
Growing up I was taking things apart and putting them back together. My mother likes to tell a story about me taking apart her office chair and putting it back together but not fully secure and laughing when she would sit in it and it would fall apart. So she liked to make sure I wasn't in the house much and was always busy doing something. In the 8th grade I was in a High Mileage Vehicle extracurricular where you build a car and compete to get the best MPG. My club that year built 2 and I ended up being the kid who welded both of the cars' framed together. It was a ton of fun and I learned that working with my hands and designing things is something I really enjoyed. Fast forward to the fall of my freshman year in high school and I had no direction or activity to do, my mom heard about my schools FRC team through her work, as she worked at the main corporate sponsor of the team where all the mentors came from. They had a mentor meeting during lunch and mentioned they were looking for a student who had some welding experience and who might want to join the team. So the next day my mom as she's dropping me off at school tells me to go talk to the tech ed teacher, Mr Schuff, about joining the team. Went and talk to him 5 minutes later and have been hooked ever since. Never welded a single thing on any robot in my 4 years on the team as we switched to different manufacturing techniques that year ha! 

What is your day job and how'd you get there?
I currently work at RB Royal as a Mechanical Applications Engineer. Its part sales, part design engineer, part manufacturing engineer. RB Royal manufactures custom fluid transfer solutions for various industries. We've got part on Harley Davidson motorcycles, John Deere tractors of all sizes, boat motors, Semi truck engines and transmission, and all sorts of other equipment. I've only been at RB Royal since September of this year. Prior to that I worked at Oshkosh Defense for a couple of years, where I was a Design Engineer working on the JLTV Platform team as a Subject Matter Expert on the JLTV. 

I like new challenges and to learn new things so I've had a few jobs since I graduated college and each role has allowed me to learn and each one has been in a completely new industry. I've been an R&D engineer for the non-wovens industry (if you don't know what non-wovens are you use them everyday and you don't even know it google them it's pretty cool technology in how they are made), Manufacturing and Automation Engineer, Project Design engineer, and fresh out of college I was an AmeriCorps VISTA working in Washington DC with FIRST.

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
I have a lot of stories with this being my 19th season of FRC coming up, but one of my favorites stories to tell new prospective people is about my very first regional in 2002 at the Midwest Regional at Northwestern University. I had a terrible cold and probably shouldn't had been at the event, but it was the only regional that was my team went to back then and I wasn't involved enough to qualify for going to national championship (that's what it was called back then) down in Disney with the teams so I wasn't going to miss it. I spent a good portion of Thursday practice day laying on the floor in the pits staring at the ceiling, then on Friday sitting in the stands shivering while scouting. Luckily my health improved friday night and Saturday was a great day. But the energy in the venue and seeing all the hard work my team, and everbody elses team put in was life changing. I thought I knew what I wanted to do for a career just from that build season, but THAT event and even being as sick as I was for the majority of it was some of the most fun I've ever had. I like to tell people that FRC is the most fun they've never heard of and that they won't understand until they go to an event, this is the story I use to try and explain why.

What's your favorite FRC game and why?
My favorite game is definitely 2005. The amount of things that you could do in the game was so vast that it was pretty much impossible to do everything that the robots looked SO different from one another compared to any time since. It was a great game for picking an choosing and compromising. I would love to play this game in the new era, though the field would have to be redesigned a bit as 6 robots would not fit on the field. 

What's the best advice you've ever received?
It's cliche but "if you enjoy what you do you'll never work a day in your life". I am in constant search for this balance. I think another good piece of advice I've been given, oddly enough by the same person, is "maturity is about timing." What that means is being aware of your environment and knowing how to act in that situation. A 32 year old man crawling on the floor barking like a dog seems pretty immature, but then you see their young child next to them playing as well, your perspective on their maturity changes. 

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
My favorite robot I didn't help build would be 33 The Killer Bees 2005 robot. They had this cool way to stack tetras (the game piece that year) in their robot and they had this double jointed arm and trident type end effector to grab the tetras off their robot or from the loading station. Their operator controller that year was a button box and it had a button for each position on the arm and next to the button was a picture of what the robot would look like when you pressed the button. Pretty cool/advanced stuff for 2005 FRC. I tried to find a picture but couldn't, so if you're reading this and have a picture of this robot from back then upload it to CD or something. 

Tell us about a time you failed and learned from it. 
The only time you fail is if you don't learn from it. It sounds dumb but I say it all the time to my students on  Wave Fail is an acronym and it stands for First Attempt In Learning. So in that context im failing and learning all the time. If you're afraid to fail you'll never get anywhere in life. 

What advice would you give to your students?

The things I repeatedly tell my students:
-Ask questions early and often
-If you don't want to volunteer for something I'm not going to assign it to you, this isn't school.
-Go to whichever college that is going to give you the most $ or costs the least. At the end of the day a degree is a degree and your drive and life experiences are what's going to set you apart. Don't start life leaps behind because you felt that you had to go to XYZ University and end up in tons of debt. 

What is the most impactful thing you have learned from robotics?
Never stop chasing your goals. 

What led you to become a mentor?
FRC had a huge impact on my life and put me on a trajectory that I did not see when I was 14 years old. Knowing the impact my mentors had on me, there is a need and want to pass that on to the next generations and to see how I can help change someone's life. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

FRC CAD Collection

We started putting together an FRC CAD collection - - It has over 375 links to FRC robot CAD files from many teams. We wanted something to be able to find robots from different seasons and from different teams.

Please submit CAD links using this form- 2

We know there are other paths for a similar resource to exist and this is far from the best way but it’s a start.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Will Barnickel - This is How I Work

This week we hear from Will Barnickel, mentor for Team 2481 Roboteers for the past 10 years.

[Responses from November 8, 2019]
Name: Will Barnickel
CD Username: barn34
Current Gig/ Job: Sr. Engineer - Caterpillar Manufacturing Automation Research
Alma Mater/Degree: Bradley University - BSME '05, MSME '08
Current Team(s): 2481 Roboteers (2009-present)
Former Team(s): None
Location: Washington, Illinois
Hobbies: Robotics, Tabletop Games, Video Games, AFOL
Are you an alumni: No

What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story.
Growing up, I was put on the accelerated track for mathematics and just naturally gravitated towards science-related stuff. I was always trying to figure out how things worked and why. In sixth grade, my science teacher, Mr. Brewer, utilized educational LEGO kits in his class to teach lessons on basic machine concepts. Being no stranger to LEGO, I blew through the first several lessons worth of material in just a few minutes. Since nobody else was finished, I started to expand on the gearing chains from the lessons and started integrating a mechanical linkage while I waited. 
Mr. Brewer was walking around to help the other kids and he eventually got to the table next to mine. I very vividly remember noticing him do a double-take as he glanced over at me before walking over to ask what I was doing. As I gave my explanation, the corner of his mouth curled up in a crooked smile and he started to shake his head. He then just mumbled to himself "you're gonna make one hell of an engineer some day" and chucked a bit to himself. At that point, I didn't really know what an engineer was, so I was instantly driven to find out. As he started to walk back towards to the front of the class, I simply asked him. In typical fashion, Mr. Brewer didn't even turn back as he responded "I'm sure you'll tell me tomorrow" - he just knew it would be better if I figured it out myself. Sure enough, I looked it up in the library that afternoon. 

As the LEGO kits were distributed in class the following day, my table was skipped. Obviously puzzled, I raised my hand to ask what was up. Mr. Brewer walked over to my table with the same crooked smile he had the day before and asked if I knew what an engineer was that day. As I responded with a simple "yes", he pointed to the back corner of the room. As he began the lesson with the rest of the class, I walked over to find an entirely different kit waiting for me. This one was triple the size of the others and had a much larger lesson book. That became my curriculum for the reminder of the semester. 

As I think back, the lessons learned in that classroom are what started me down the path of becoming the engineer I am today. Mr Brewer's efforts as a teacher are also what inspire me to continue to give back as a FIRST mentor. 

What is your day job, and how'd you get there?
I'm currently a senior engineer in the manufacturing automation research group for Caterpillar. On a day-to-day basis, my primary projects investigate various industrial robotics technologies and develop automation solutions for Caterpillar manufacturing applications. My recent project work revolves around the integration of collaborative robots to augment manual processes. Those are all just fancy engineering descriptions for getting to do cool stuff with 6-axis robot arms. I've been in the current position for almost 2 years, but have been working at the Caterpillar Tech Center, primarily in various automation research roles, for nearly 12 years now. 

I earned my original position at Caterpillar following a working partnership with Bradley University. My graduate thesis was on object detection and collision warning algorithm development and this was research that aligned nicely with the work the Caterpillar automation team was doing. This provided the opportunity to work closely with the Caterpillar team while simultaneously completing my graduate work. It was an outstanding working relationship that resulted in a great career path with Caterpillar research following graduation. 

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics? 
I have a lot of great stories from the past 11 years, which makes it incredibly difficult to narrow down to the moment, based on recent events, the story that most jumps out to me is from the 2013 season. 

For Ultimate Ascent 2481 designed our most complex and versatile robot up to that point. It was one of the few robots that season that could hit the shoot, climb, and dump trifecta. The 2013 Crossroads Regional was our second competition of that season. We learned a lot from our previous performances and started out the event well. We finished day one of quals in 1st place and we were excited heading into day 2. Our friends from 868 had a killer cycling robot that year and we were hopeful to get the opportunity to pair up with them for elims. As fate would have it, Murphy's law kicked us square in the jaw early on day 2 and we struggled to get things repaired over the final few matches. We headed into alliance selections ready to go, but our showing that morning was so bad it justifiably took us off the top of the pick lists as we dropped all the way to the sixth. We ended up captaining the number 5 alliance into the semi-finals and ran into the number 1 alliance captained by 868. 

With our mechanical issues resolved, our alliances were very well matched, and we only manage to lose match 1 by a narrow margin. We had match 2 under control until everything changed dramatically in the closing seconds. As we were perched on the top corner of the pyramid after a successful climb and dump, I noticed something ominously twitch. As the final seconds counted down, our alliance partners sprinted into the bottom rungs to get their level 1 climbs, as usual. In this match, the results of those normal impacts to the pyramid ended up knocking us completely loose. At that moment, everything seemed to transition to slow motion as I watched our robot topple backwards and do a complete "Peter Pan" off the top of the pyramid. It hit with a sickening, ground shaking thud as it landed directly on the climbing claw after the acrobatic dismount. Fortunately, the fall didn't impact the result on the scoreboard and we still managed to force a deciding match 3. That also meant we only had a few minutes to get our robot repaired and back on the field.

The drive team wheeled the robot into a curtained off area next to the field, and the entire pit crew frantically got to work inspecting and repairing the robot as fast as possible. I got a glimpse of the damage and noticed the climbing claw was completely split at the weld points and the pivot for our shooter appeared bent out of alignment. With that damage, I was pretty sure that meant we could't climb and put a big question mark on if we were capable of shooting. As I backed away to give the crew room to work, I was then rapidly engulfed by members of countless other teams handing me parts and asking if there was anything we needed. In perfect FIRST fashion, 868 even came over to offer their help to get us back on the filed opposite them for match 3. Collectively, it was the most incredible display of gracious professionalism that I've ever experienced in my 11 years in FIRST. Unquestionably, everyone that contributed in those events that day made Woodie proud. 

Through everyone's support, we managed to get the robot repaired enough to get it on the field for match 3. If we somehow found a way to survive and advance, we had a change for an impromptu fix of the climbing claw prior to the finals. In the match we did well primarily defending 868, but without bulk of our contributed offense our alliance just couldn't pull off the upset. As our drive team was carrying our robot off the field like a fallen gladiator after the match, the ovation we received from the crowd was amazing. That's yet another great testament to the class of the FIRST competition. 

868 advanced to the finals and their alliance won the event after 2 more matches. Their well-deserved victory was awesome and celebrated, but I'm not sure if it was possible for any team to have more fun at Crossroads 2013 that we did losing in those crazy semi-finals. 

What's your favorite FRC game and why?  
My favorite game is easily 2014's Aerial Assist. The game is still the closest the FRC competition has ever gotten to that true 'sports' feel and provided a very spectator friendly experience. As a strategy coach/mentor, this game also required the most alliance synergy to be effective and provided opportunities for building great alliance relationships through this coordination. We've always been a team that puts a lot of focus on that cohesive alliance experience, so this game was a perfect fit for that approach. 

The general concept and rules were also simple enough that you didn't need to reference a massive appendix of definitions to understand how to play, but still provided a lot of organic strategic depth. The strategic layers that unlocked at the various levels of game competition was awesome to experience as the season evolved. I honestly feel that this game provides a great foundation that could be further developed and expanded upon for a broader robotic sports competition 

What's that best advice you've ever received
Don't sweat the small stuff. 

There's a lot of things in life that are completely out of your control. If there's nothing you can do to impact something at that moment, it's a complete waste of your time, energy, and sanity to direct your attention there. Instead, focus that effort towards a productive response and gain a better understanding of what you can do to improve the situation moving forward. That's always the better long-term play for the end game of life. 

How did you get involved in FIRST? 
Caterpillar is a huge supporter of STEM outreach and FIRST robotics sponsorships are one of the primary programs. A presentation about FIRST was given at one of the new-hire orientation events and I inquired about getting involved immediately after. Caterpillar sponsors several teams in the greater Peoria area, so finding a team fit was the next challenge. Through 2 completely independent sources, essentially simutaneously, 2481 was recommended. This was 2009, so they were heading into their second full season and looking for professional mentors. I curiously attended a build season easy that season, not knowing what I was getting myself into, and have been involved every since. 

What advice would you give to your high school self? 
-Don't be afraid to fail.

-Never sacrifice your own happiness and principles to appease those of others.

-Invest in Apple, Amazon, and Netflix. 

Tell us about a time you failed and learned from it. 
For Ultimate Ascent in 2013, 2481 sacrificed multiple areas to get the full shoot, climb, and dump capability package integrated together. Subsequently, that forced us to suffer from the dreaded "jack of all trades, master of none" syndrome. The design and execution of this robot combined for one of the best learning experiences we've had as a team. 

First, we misjudged the effective time requirement for climbing to level 3 compared to cycling for more disc shooting. This lead to a much more improved approach to strategic design in following seasons where we very rigorously break tasks down and focus on maximizing our points per second potential. All design decisions are now heavily influenced and effectively driven by impact on this metric.

Second, one of our main design tradeoffs was shortening the wheelbase to provide more stability while climbing up the corner and allowing for a disc dump at the top. Coupling that with the weight of the folding shooter integration and that resulted in a design that has a Cg a bit higher than we wanted. That effectively cost us a win at the Wisconsin regional that year as we ended up tipping after a midfield collision early in finals match 3. We added a self-righting mechanism immediately following that event, but it still cost us at a critical moment. Design tradeoffs that impact Cg are now evaluated more appropriately and performance requirements are used for developing extra safeguards in software (speed-based extension limits, for example).

Finally, and most importantly, we fully learned why the "jack of all trades, master of none" design philosophy is not an effective winning strategy for FIRST competitions. Our design goals for every game since have always placed a focus on identifying at least one area that we strive to be among the best at. If we must sacrifice complete functionality in one area to become better in another, that's preferable. There's a lot that goes into identifying the effective costs/benefits and prioritizing them, but they're always an effort to continue to move the needle forward on our most advantageous design feature. If you are among the best at something, there will always be a place for you on an elimination alliance, and in a much-coveted role if you focus on the right area. Perfect example of this was in our key design decisions for the 2016 season. We made the choices to fully forego going under the low bar and climbing in the endgame to avoid having to sacrifice any shooting capability or consistency. Most teams weren't willing to give one or both capabilities up and we were able to take advantage by continuing to fully focus on improving the accuracy of our shooter from distance over the course of the entire season. Circling back to the first point, we also evaluated the point per second effort in climbing versus the additional benefits of continuing to shoot for higher capture potential. The tradeoff was that we then knew we had to work harder on building proper alliance synergies to fill the capability gaps we had. 

What advice would you give to your students? 
Embrace the learning opportunities that come your way in everything you do. When something works, don't forget to still look for what you can learn. Strive for continuous improvement and never be satisfied with "good enough". When you experience failure, don't dwell on the negative, focus your attention on what you can learn from it. 

In engineering, a test that fails still produces a result. That result tells you one more way something doesn't work or how not to do something in the future. That information can be just as valuable, if not more, than what can be learned from a successful test. Make sure to document those failures just as you would the successes. Those same principles apply to my life, as well. 

What is the most impactful thing you have learned from robotics? 
It's better to concede a mistake to learn and grow from it, than compound one by trying to continually fix something fundamentally broken. 

What led you to become a mentor? 

For me, Mr. Brewer's efforts to open my eyes to engineering at an early age did a lot to give me direction. It's not uncommon for young people to have difficulty identifying what they want to pursue for an eventual career. Students that could have an interest in engineering fields may not be fully aware of what their opportunities are. Parents, teachers, and guidance counselors can all be limited by what knowledge they have gained through their own experiences, connections, and backgrounds. I'm thrilled to be able to volunteer and act as a conduit they can direct those prospective engineering students towards. I know how much the bit of guidance I received meant to me, so I want to do all I can to help provide that for a new generation. I feel incredibly lucky to be even a small part of helping so many students over the years identify and embrace their desired career path.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Nikki Panda - This is How I Work

Today we are getting to know Nikki Panda. Nikki has worked with many FRC teams and is an alumna of Team 2016 The Mighty Monkey Wrenches and is currently a mentor for Team 1807, Redbird Robotics. Nikki is well known within the FRC community as being a dedicated emcee and volunteer. Keep reading to learn more about Nikki Panda!

[Responses from November 11, 2019]
Name: Nikki (Panda) Stout
CD Username: musicgurl1329 (I made it in high school. Please forgive me) 
Current Job: Director of Marketing Technology, TAPP Network
Alma Mater/Degree: The College of New Jersey, Bachelor of Arts in Interactive Multimedia (a fancy way to say Video Games), Minor in Women and Gender Studies. Currently enrolled at Drexel University for Nonprofit Management.
Current Team(s): FRC 1807 Redbird Robotics
Former Team(s): FRC Teams 5666 (2017),148 (2016), 1089 (2012 - 2015), and 2016 (2007 - 2011)
Hobbies: Gaming (both board and video games), Weightlifting, Drawing, Mountain Hiking, and Rock Climbing. 
Are you an Alumni?: Yes of FRC 2016. 

What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story.
There is not one thing that inspired me to do anything that I have done. When I was first starting out in FIRST, I was not in a good place. I needed a support system and I was fortunate to find that in my mentors, especially in our mentor Rich. He was retired and always encouraged me to not only pursue robotics but also my artistic talents. 

In my senior year, my team and I had a rough start. In September of 2010, we found out my mentor had Stage 4 Cancer. During late October he passed away. I was devastated. By the end of my senior year, I realized I wanted to be there for kids who were like myself and others who were going through difficult times while giving them the space to escape and express themselves freely. I wanted to be the person my mentor Rich was for me. So I became a mentor to 1089 while in college. 

When it comes to volunteering, I tried a few times before I got heavily involved. I feel like I really started when an event needed another Master of Ceremonies in 2015. I figured I could give it another shot and the worse case was that I made sure a new district event was running. I was formally trained by Katie in FMA and the New Brunswick District event. Afterward, I had students come up and they were excited to meet me, I also made a lot of friends that day and between the two things it made me want to keep volunteering. 

What is your day job, and how'd you get there? 
For my day job, I work at a mission-driven Marketing and Technology solutions company. There I run the technology behind how my company markets for our client base. I use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to hold data on our client's customers and potential donors. Through this software, we can send email communication, host blogs, and manage the front ends of the website. Outside of the CRM, I managed webinars and automated emails for some clients. I also do data science. Each month I pull analytics on how people are interacting with our client's online presence and track changes like demographic shifts or what parts of the website are getting more attention. I love seeing how people react to the content we create and then seeing how we can improve on what we do. 

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics? 
I have so many fantastic stories after 14 years in FIRST. I've traveled all over the country and have done so many different competitions however I have a tie for my favorite memory of FIRST. 

This past season, I got to be a Master of Ceremonies at the Detriot Championship, I was so honored to do it and I had a blast every day I got to do it. 

The other memory that comes to mind is the support of my mentors from FRC 2016 had for me when my mentor passed away. That year we went to Ramp Riot, an offseason hosted by 341 Miss Daisy. I was in the pits trying not to think about being at an event without Rich when another mentor Tyler starts to try to sing Katy Perry and dance around our pit. 

I couldn't help but crack up. 

What's your favorite FRC game and why? 
I am terribly biased. My favorite was 2011, Logomotion. I ended up machining our robot which ended up becoming the finalist on Einstein. A close second was last year because of my incredible seniors on 1807 that made last year's build season a blast. 

(NOTE: As of when this was recorded last year was 2019, Destination Deep Space) 

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Pursue what you are passionate about but know you may need to work hard and outside of what your passion is to reach your goals. 

How did you get involved in FIRST?
I found FIRST through a series of unfortunate events within a few months which led to me being pretty depressed. I was fortunate to have a few teachers that really cared about me- particularly the science teacher. To best describe her, she was a real-life Ms. Frizzle, with an Iguana and everything. One day after class she put a flier on my desk for the New Jersey Regional and told me I should go. She said I'd get extra credit if I went and bought 3 things. So I went. 

When I got there I was a bit overwhelmed with what was going on. I was really shy and quite frankly, kind of scared but I saw my hometown team was competing and I knew some of the kids on the team so I talked to them a little bit. After a while I found my friends pushing me to try new things, especially to be the mascot because none of them wanted to do it. I put it on and felt comfortable. I ended up making my way to the mascot pit and quickly became friends with everyone in the suits and costumes. At that point, I was happy for the first time in weeks and I was back to being my goofy self. In that moment I was dancing and cheering on every robot, I just knew I found where I belonged. After that day was over I ended up convincing my dad to take me back the next day. A few months later I was at off-season competitions as an official member. 

What advice would you give to your high school self? 
There is a lot I wish I could have told my younger self. I think out of everything I've experienced since high school I wish I could tell myself to live more. Go and try new things, take extra classes on different subjects, find something different to do each summer so you can have a better understanding of who you are and then you won't have to try to cram it all into the 4 years of college. 

Tell us about a time you failed and learned from it. 
I've had my fair share of failures throughout my life. Most of which are from over-committing myself and then not having the time to get everything done, This happened a lot in college. I am not proud of nearly failing college course(s) but I tried to do everything and just couldn't get it all done.

What advice would you give to your students? 
I struggle with this still in my work life, volunteer life, and personal life: the word 'No' exists for a reason. Please use it. Especially if you need a break or don't want to do something. 

What is the most impactful thing you have learned from robotics? 
For me, it has been problem-solving. Not just figuring out how to play a game but using those skills to help me better understand technical issues at my job along with helping people at work and in my personal life. 

What led you to become a mentor? 
After my one mentor passed away I realized how large of an impact he had on me. As my senior year came to an end I realized I wanted to do what my mentors had for me- to be there and support me. 

Anything else you want people to know about you?
When I am not volunteering for FIRST or am working, I volunteer with Crisis Text Line, an international crisis-intervention text line. Through them, I became a certified short term counselor and help bring people from a heated moment to a cool calm. If you or someone you know is ever in need of emotional help you can reach a person 24 hours a day every day, throughout the US by texting 741741, Canada by texting 686868, and the United Kingdom by texting 85258. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Marshall Massengill - This is How I Work

This week we interview Marshal Massengill from Team 900. Marshall has been involved with the Zebracorns since 2003 when he joined as a student and is now a mentor for the team. When he isn't mentoring the Zebracorns Marshall can be found working for VMware and is soon going to have his first child!

[Responses from November 7, 2019] 

Name: Marshall Massengill
CD Username: marshall
Current Job: Senior Consultant at VMware
Alma Mater/Degree: NCSSM & NCSU, Computer Engineering
Current Team(s): The Zebracorns
Former Team(s): The Zebracorns
Location: Durham, North Carolina
Hobbies: Formula 1, gadgets and technology, stirring up trouble, volunteering, mentoring (not just FRC and not just mentoring others but being mentored), history, politics, philosophy, cooking, and playing with my cats, and I'm having a kid with my awesome wife Meg now too!
Are you an Alumni?: Yep!

What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story.
I got into IT because I love technology and gadgets and tinkering. When I was little, my parents would hide the screwdrivers on me because I would take everything apart - and not put it back together, which I think was the real issue. I'm an inveterate tinkerer by nature and just want to know how the world works. 

I also love helping people so troubleshooting problems for other people comes naturally to me and I have a blast performing root cause analysis and trying to figure out the problem as well as a solution that firs the resources available. For me, I view a lot of problems as systematic so getting to change a process and not just provide a break-fix solution is a big part of what I enjoy about my work. 

I started off doing IT deskside support for IBM when I was in high school at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. This definitely lead me to pursue a degree in computer engineering, while I kept interning. When I graduated, I ended up on a "new" team with the crazy radical idea for server virtualization (Narrator: It's not a crazy idea but a lot of people thought it was at the time) and before long I ended up in charge of a team of wickedly smart people and managing close to 400 servers running VMware ESXi and about 10,000 virtual machines for all of IBM's software development group. It was quite the experience and I learned a lot but I wasn't happy with my job there because the culture never quite fit with me. I ended up leaving and going into IT administration for a couple of different manufacturing companies (I was searching for a "home" if that makes sense) which was awesome because I got to combine some of my love for robotics and industrial automation with my passion for IT work. 

Eventually though, I got tired of that too because it just wasn't so fast paced as I wanted it to be so I kept getting encouragement from some of my peers to jump into IT consulting so I could quench my thirst for having more projects to work on and being able to leave them and go onto the next thing instead of just staying in the same tasks day after day. I applied to VMware for a job doing what I'm doing now but unfortunately, after rocking some interviews and almost getting the offer, the Dell/EMC merger happened and it put my move to VMware on hold due to a hiring freeze. I did something at that point that would change my life and was incredibly simple, I wrote a very nice thank you note to the HR rep that I had been working with and I asked her nicely the please put my resume back on top of the stack for when the hiring freeze ended. She did and about 5 months later, I started my job at VMware and I've never been happier with my career, The people I work with are amazing and the work I do genuinely transforms other countries. 


What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?

I have many but the first one I wrote about back right after it happened in 2015:

My other favorite story is more recent, I was on the Zebracorns way back in 2004 as a student and I've seen the team grow over the years and every now and then it really hits home how much the team has changed. In particular, when the team traveled to Madrid, Spain last year to give a talk at ROSCon, I had one of those moments. We were in the city's underground subway system and trying to navigate the route to our hotel from the airport and we had two existing students with us and two recently graduated students who were with us that had flown in from Boston, Ma and Dallas, TX. So there we were, in a foreign country, getting ready to have some college freshmen, a highschool senior, and a highschool junior, present to a group of 500+ roboticists from around the word and representing companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Toyota, and more. To fully understand it, you'd also need to know that we submitted our talk proposal to ROSCon and didn't have high hopes of getting accepted as there are a lot more talks that get rejected than accepted. 

What is your favorite FRC game and why?
It's a tossup between Aerial Assist and Triple Play (which I hope we eventually get a Triple Replay). 

What's the best advice you've ever received?
To apply to a school I had never heard about. Literally changed my life completely. As a sophomore in high school at SSS (Smithfield Selma Senior High) in Johnson County, NC; while sitting in a Journalism class one day, this wonderful woman named Letita Mason came to talk to us about a residential boarding school in Durham NC that I had never heard of before.

The students lived on campus, attended classes, and it was all paid for by the state... and anyone could apply as long as they were a resident of NC and a sophomore. The school focused on gifted students and accelerated them into different and interesting advanced programs. 
The school is known as the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics ( It was founded in 1980 with the mission to bring better STEM education to the state and help keep some of those bright minds in the state and improve education for everyone. Not just education but also foster a sense of civic duty, of volunteerism, of giving back...gee, this sounds familiar. NCSSM was created almost a decade before FIRST was founded which is pretty mind blowing whenever I stop to think about it. It's touched the lives of many and continues to be held us as the gold standard to secondary STEM schools as a founding member of the NCSS consortium. There are a lot of other schools like it now in a lot of different states.

Needless to say, I applied and was eventually accepted to the school and it changed my life forever. 

How did you get involved in FIRST?
The high school I came from before moving to NCSSM did not have a FIRST team. They didn't even know what FIRST was at the time. NCSSM had one of the only 4 teams in the state at the time and the minute I saw the robot being driven at the school, I knew what I wanted to do as an extracurricular activity. I joined as a student on Team 900 in 2003. At the time we were known as "Team Infinity" but when I was a student, we adopted the Zebra striped pants and a Zebracorn mascot.

What advice would you give to your ten year old self? 
I would tell him that it's going to be ok. You're going to be building robots with smart people and doing a load of awesome and interesting things and you'll have access to far more resources than you could ever dream of... and I'd tell him to go learn about NCSSM ahead of applying for it. 

Who are your engineering inspirations and heroes? 
Colin Chapman for certain - I feel like Colin was a kindred spirit and enthusiastic rule bender like myself. His contributions to Formula 1 and Lotus are absolutely amazing to me and I wish I could be half the engineer he was. 

Arthur C Clarke is another one. Clarke's Laws are required reading for many of my students. Go look them up.

What advice do you give to your students?
Be interesting and stand out from the crowd.
Never stop learning new stuff.
Ask more questions.
Adapt to change.
Do your homework.
Recover from failures quickly.
Stay away from the FRC discord.
Stop over-tightening bolts
That's not how you're supposed to use that. 

Basically, a lot of cliches that they've all heard before but somehow I think they sound better coming from me and maybe they'll listen to me when I say them. Sometimes it works, sometimes they have to learn by failing on their own and I have to buy replacement tools or more stock material.

What is the most impactful thing you have learned from robotics?
From my time in robotics, I'd say the biggest thing I have learned is empathy. When you start learning to think like other people and understand where they are and where they are trying to go, you can more easily relate to and solve their problems. It's a skill that I use daily and I know I learned a lot about it and continue to learn a lot about it as a mentor for a robotics team. 

What led you to become a mentor? 

The wrong things. No, that's probably not fair but I guess I should explain it. I started mentoring as a freshman in college because I think I was a little lost and wasn't sure how to move beyond FRC and FIRST. I don't know if the past me could have easily admitted to being a failure as a mentor during those early years but I was, I can admit that now. Luckily, I think I've improved since then and FRC isn't the only thing I know anymore. I don't feel like most college freshmen should be mentoring an FRC team and advise all of them against it. Go explore the world outside FRC. It will still be here when you come back. 

Anything else you want people to know about you?
I'd love for people to understand that just because they read my posts on Chief Delphi doesn't mean they know me. While I can come across as full of myself and sometimes self-righteous and easily excitable, I'm a lot more than that. I'm a person and have feelings too. I make mistakes and I try to learn from them. You can't just read my posts and know me instantly. I write a lot of witty comments because that's often the first thought in my head but it's far from the only one and I'm a lot more nuanced in person than I come across on Chief. I do believe in FIRST's mission but I also believe in a much larger one that I think they've lost sight of in recent years though getting rid of the bag was a huge improvement in my book. I want to change the world so I'm helping make students that will help me do just that.

Also, I'm prepared to have my first child and I'm crazy excited about that and want to tell the world. I'm in no way ready or prepared and I've got a billion thoughts racing through my head everyday about it but I'm excited for it.