From Robots to IT: How One FIRST Mentor Got a New Job at FedEx
If you happened to find yourself at this year’s FIRST Championship – the world finals for student robot competitions – here’s what you’d see:
Everywhere you look, gobs of excitement and squeals of fun as the smartest kids in the world created and competed in a non-stop festival of technology. The massive event is the culmination of months (sometimes years) of work by students, mentors, and parents. Tens of thousands of students are united by their passion for making the world a better place through technology.
But you get the distinct feeling that this is led by the students, not by the older folks. It represents the very best of what we can become.
FIRST students take pride in Coopertition – a FIRST philosophy that directs students to help and cooperate with each other even as they compete.
Many of these students hold their own patents for devices they have created. Most of them can create a program in minutes. And they all will inspire you.
This year at FIRST Championship a FedEx robot roamed the hallways. It’s part of a growing fleet of robots used in our tech repair centers to help carry parts back and forth between technicians, allowing those techs to focus on their complex work, rather than move back and forth through hallways and elevators.
FIRST robots are heavy, and they need to go places, so FedEx donates over $1.5 million in shipping each year to get the kits of parts to each team, and to move the giant finished robot crates to & from FIRST Championship.
The students took an immediate liking to Commodore and Jason, the two FedEx robots that attended. Selfies and smiles greeted them each day as FIRST gave them a warm welcome to this robo-palooza.
One FIRST mentor noticed the FedEx bots, and made his way over to the FedEx booth to get a closer look. As Wil McKenney talked to the FedEx team members who operated the robots, one suggested that he apply for one of the open FedEx IT positions.
Wil applied for a software developer position and was hired within weeks!
We caught up with Wil to find out a little more about this story:
A: When I first got to high school, I saw the robotics team had taken up most of the hallway and they always seemed to be working on something cool. Then my English teacher introduced me to the head mentor of the team, who always made real-world robotics relevant to class. I decided to go to a team meeting and was instantly hooked.
Q: What impact have you noticed that mentoring has on students?
A: Many students are unsure if they want to join a team, but they’re interested in an engineering field. As a mentor I try to have the same impact that my teacher did for me, show them how awesome robotics can be, and even if you don’t have technical experience, you can still contribute in other ways. FIRST is more than robots, there’s always a need for people to work on fundraising and marketing and presentation, and a lot of other areas.
Q: Has your impression of FedEx changed through your exposure at FIRST?
A: Before visiting the FedEx booth at FIRST Championship in Detroit, I hadn’t considered the technical challenges and innovation that were happening here. I knew that FedEx was a sponsor of FIRST, and it has been clear that FedEx cared about FIRST robotics education. That gave me a good impression of the company, and I was excited to see and hear about all of the cool things that FedEx is working on.
Q: What kinds of things are you working on in your role in FedEx IT?
A: I am a software developer, so I am working on writing applications for direct use by FedEx customers. Most of my experience comes from Java, but my team also uses Angular, so I am learning that as well.
Q: How are you liking FedEx IT so far?
A: I’ve already connected with some great people including some other mentors for the local FRC team who have told me about the cool projects they’re working on. My project here has already presented some interesting problems which I’m excited to solve.
Q: How did FIRST prepare you for the IT “real world”?
A: I used a lot of examples from my time in FIRST in the FedEx job interview process. FIRST gave me some valuable experience working on a team and planning for a project, especially working under a lot of pressure with tight timeframes.
Q: What would you tell other students about how FIRST can prepare them for their career?
A: FIRST will prepare you better than any class you could take. There is no replacement for working on a project – including design, implementation, and testing – as well as presenting your creation and marketing your brand. FIRST will absolutely give you exposure to all of that. My high school mentor started this idea of running the team like a small business where the robot is the product and the team members are the employees. Thinking about the team in this way gave me experience and skills to succeed in a business environment.