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.


Editable Chairman's Documentation Form

We realized that the 2020 Chairman's Documentation Form published by FIRST is a PDF that isn't easily editable by teams.

We made a quick version on Google Slides that will let teams fill in the table and add their documentation to the slide deck to easily keep track of the documents.

Make a copy of this document to be able to edit it and use it for your team.

- Spectrum

Monday, November 4, 2019

Cory Walters - This is How I Work

We are starting our 2019-2020 series of This is How I Work with Cory Walters. Cory is a mentor for team 2767, Stryke Force. His love for robotics began in 2002 when his brother joined an FRC team and that passion has grown into something that makes him want to inspire a new generation of students. Read on to learn more about Cory Walters! 

[Responses from October 30, 2019] 
Name: Cory Walters
CD Username: Cory_Walters
Current Job: Early Talent Robotics Program Associate 
Alma Mater/Degree: Northern Michigan University- Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management
Current Team(s): 2767 Stryke Force (2013- Present)
Former Team(s): 141 Wobot (2002-2010, 2013) - 2617 Cold Logic (2001-2012)
Location: Kalamazoo, Michigan
Hobbies: Robotics, Ultimate Frisbee, Video Games, Playing on Lakes
Are you an Alumni?: Yes! 
What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story.
The adult role models I grew up around are the exact reason I am who I am today. I could never replicate the compassion and guidance they gave me growing up. If I can give back just a fraction of the inspiration they give to me to others, it's a win in my book. 
What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
In 2008 I went down to check out the Midwest Regional. My team was not competing at the event, but it was the closest regional that weekend. The blue alliance was barely a thing yet and live streams were a definition in a book somewhere. To see any FRC action you had to go check it out live in person.

111 Wildstang was there and they built yet another stout robot for the FRC game! That specific game required robots to throw balls over a tall bar for points. 111 had a massive intake on an elevator to accomplish such a task. During the Midwest Regional they could lift this huge contraption into the air to get the ball over the bar. Before the robot could proceed on its path they had to back up and lower the elevator back down. In one match, I mean this happened to them one time at the event, just once! They brought the elevator down too soon and ripped the intake roller off the robot. Once that happened, they were just a driving chassis.

Now jump into the future with me and go to the semifinals 2-2 of Newton year at worlds. 141 got picked by 1574 Miscar, and we wounded out the alliance with team 2016 Mighty Monkey Wrenches. We were up against 2056 OP robotics the Canadian power house, they give teams nightmares just thinking about them. 68 Truck Town Thunder who was known for being an aggressive pushing machine. Along with, you named it, 111 Wildstang the Midwest Motorola titan! Knowing what happened to them at the Midwest regional, I knew the drivers are now in sync on when to bring the elevator down to protect the intake roller. When the opportunity presented itself, I made sure the interrupt the process. After they hurled the ball, I gave them a bump on the rear to interrupt the routine so the elevator would go down and rip the intake roller clean off.

After the dust settled the lead mentor for 111 came over and asked how we know that was a flaw in the robot, it only happened once and 141 was not even at the event. We came down that weekend and scouted. SCOUTING MASTERS, it was not about scouting hard data, but seeing rhythms, habits, and knowing how to put the team in understandable situation was key.

What is your favorite FRC game and why?

My favorite FRC game is 2006 Aim High. It was the first year I drove a robot and it was a shooting game, how awesome is that! I loved the open field and allocated scoring times during the match. Bumpers were optional! We choose to not have bumpers so we could hit other robots harder with the robot. The robot only went 8 feet per second, but if it got you to you! You were getting pushed around no matter what, even up a ramp you didn't want to be on. 

What's the best advice you've ever received?
The best advice I ever got...Good question. In 2008 I was one of the two drivers on 141. For those that remember it was essentially Nascar with giant balls. Go check it out if you haven't seen it yet. The robot drove like a car, it had steering wheels in the front with powered wheels in the back, just like a car. The robot was scary fast. The lead programming mentor told me when you turn left, it will always go to the center of the field. But on a serious note of the best advice. You are the stern of the sail boat; your job is to always keep the boat up no matter what happens. 

How did you get involved in FIRST? 
When I was in middle school my mom brought my older brother and I to the West Michigan Regional in 2001. That was the first FIRST event I ever saw. There were robots going up and down a teeter totter, moving giant towers with balls in them. The one robot that stood out was 111 Wildstang, they would assist the other team that was going on the teeter totter by balancing it from underneath. 

The following year my older brother joined 141 Wobot along with my parents as mentors. Since I was a little pip squeak in middle school, I toted along with my family to all the regionals the team went to. I didn't know it at the time, but I saw a lot of the legacy robots such as, 71 the BEAST carpet crawler robot in 2002, 2003 great king of the hill battles, and 2004, the first game with steps. I didn't mind going, it meant I got to skip school and travel to cool places on the weekends, such as Houston champs in 2003. Where FIRST teams only, 13-year old's dream at the time, no lines anywhere! 

When I was old enough to do FRC my freshman year, I was hooked! No going back after that! 

What advice would you give to your high school self? 
The best advice I would give myself, would be to stick with it and it will all turn out in the end. I wouldn't want to go down a different path knowing where I am now. 

Tell us about a time you failed a learned from it. 
That's an easy one, learning to play with other teams after a debacle of a season in 2014. We built a dangerously strong, head decapitating, catapult to launch that ball. Great scoring machine, terrible intake system. On top of that we didn't pass the ball as much as we should have with our alliances for more points. We would get the ball and run down and score sometimes. It also didn't help that the CRIO (RIP and may it never come back!) would do a reset every time we hit something hard. On the bright side we learned how to make 3/4 in round bumpers 😉. 

What advice would you give your students? 
Its important to know that you give back to the FIRST program that has given you so much in return. The one caveat to that is FIRST will be around after you get out of college, focus on your studies and schooling while you are there. It can be tough to go cold turkey after high school, but FIRST got you ready for school and its needs your attention now. 

What is the most impactful thing you have learned from robotics?
Trust those who know more than you. I have had the privilege to work with numerous intelligent people over the years. The wisdom and knowledge they have is profound! Every single individual on this planet is going to know something that you don't. Always be learning from each other and have situational awareness of the peers you have around you. 

What led you to become a mentor? 
For better and for worse, I have been in the program for so long I do not know how I could not be a mentor in this program.