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.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.