After coming together to discuss the highlights, challenges, experiences, and opportunities of our rookie season, our team compiled the following list of insights that we took away from our rookie season. We’ll be using this to help orient new members next year, and we thought it may also be of interest to other groups experiencing (or planning to experience) FRC for the first time.
We invested time up front to build the skills of our team members. That meant that when build season hit we had team members who knew how to use the power tools in the shop, who understood safety procedures, who knew how the mechanical systems worked, and who knew how to code. The build season is very hectic, but having that capacity in place early on was a major advantage.
Communication is key
We quickly realized that we’d need a way to manage internal communication. We experimented with different systems before settling on a Discord server. Discord was a platform that our team members were already using, and it let us have distinct channels for different subteams. That gave the mentors an easy way to communicate with the students they were working with, and it was effective at co-ordinating the work schedules of different groups. We even maintain a parents’ channel to give updates on team meetings, outreach events, and competitions.
Be humble (and realistic)
As a rookie team (and also as a low-resource team), we decided early on to set realistic goals. We had ideas for much more complex mechanisms, but ultimately settled on a simple, robust design that we knew we could implement. Then we worked on perfecting that design, making small and incremental improvements until we felt we’d build the most reliable, efficient version of the concept.
Be open to change
Throughout the season we had a lot of ideas for our robot, our strategy, our logo, and even our team name. It was critical that all members of the team were open to new suggestions, and were willing to abandon a concept when presented with a better alternative. We learned to “fall in love with the problem, and not the solution”.
We learn from our failures
Fail early, and fail often. We had many things that didn’t go as planned, but we always stepped back, talked about the problem, and tried to learn from our setbacks. Over time we learned a lot by studying our errors, and eventually we found ourselves asking questions about things that were totally unexpected to us. We’ve learned that when in doubt we should just test the idea, gather data, and go from there.
All jobs count
FIRST is about so much more than the robot. We had many people bring different skill sets to the team, and that helped us take on a lot in our first year. A big factor in engaging in all areas of the FIRST mission is to respect what all team members are contributing. Whether someone was building, coding, wiring, doing communications, doing outreach, scouting, or helping to clean the shop, all of those jobs helped our team accomplish its goals.
Help other teams
Although we were “just” rookies, we still found many opportunities to help other teams throughout the season. Whether it was lending out tools and hardware, helping teams with code, or welcoming teams to practice in our shop, we always tried to contribute to the community. That helped our team build confidence, and gave us a sense of belonging in the FIRST community. Having positive relationships also made us more comfortable seeking assistance when we needed it.
As a new team we didn’t have an established list of sponsors and donors we could fall back on. We worked actively as a team to find opportunities for partnerships. We were able to find community partners who generously contributed tools, metal, hardware, laptops, colour printing, and even our team t-shirts. We were also able to connect with mentors, as well as outreach opportunities that helped us build our team’s profile. Starting those partnerships early is essential to having the necessary resources in place for competition season.
FIRST is about making an impact in the community. Our team hosted FLL and FLL Jr events, offered a series of FLL workshops, had a televised appearance on CP24, ran demonstrations at Twitter Canada and Science Rendezvous, and even drove our robot down Yonge St as part of the TDSB’s Pride Parade contingent. We’re always looking for more ways to connect with the community, and that’s led to a lot of interesting and fun experiences for our team.