In school, I’m that kid in math class that never raises her hand. I like to sit in the back of the class, keep to myself, and learn through listening. But then school ends, robotics practice begins, and I no longer have a choice. Questions become necessary.
There’s this thing that happens with teenage girls, where at some point during puberty, we stop asking questions. It’s this feeling that asking is equivalent to admitting fault---that not knowing something, or getting confused, means that you’re not smart enough. Or even that raising your hand is like opening yourself up to the possibility of being wrong. Questions feel like uncomfortable vulnerability.
But here’s the thing: questions are important. Especially outside of math class, when there aren’t any perfect right or wrong answers. In robotics, there often isn’t any one best decision, or one best way of decision making. Everything we do is a calculated trade-off through planning, prototyping, testing, and redesigning. Unlike math class, there isn’t a khan academy of tried and true postulates for how to make your robotics season work. This is where asking questions becomes important. You can’t just google the optimal bot for the year’s challenge. The cool thing about FIRST is that every team chooses to solve challenges in a different way, but the hard thing about FIRST is that there is no one “best robot.” Every person you meet will have a different idea of what ideal should be. By asking about differing perspectives on the same task, you make it easier to think creatively, brainstorm, and think critically about your own perspectives.
So, while it’s important to ask questions in order to get multiple perspectives on the same challenge, asking questions can also grant you access to the combined gazillion years of experience of competitors just like you.
I’ve found the most gratification in robotics through the connections I’ve made. FIRSTies are incredible friends, and incredible resources. In FIRST, there is always someone willing to lend a hand if you need help. FIRST is a wealth of knowledge just waiting to be tapped. And all it takes to do so is to start asking questions.
Every FIRST team has its strengths and weaknesses. But one of the best ways to make your weaknesses into your strengths is to get direction from teams that excel in your weakest areas. My team has done this, and it has been an incredible way for us to share our FIRST experience with another team and let them share in return.
My team’s weakest area is in the mechanical stuff. We are great at promoting our team, and talking up FIRST in our community, but when it came to building a robot for this season---we didn’t know where to start. This is where our friends in FIRST came in. We met so many experienced teams during our regional tournaments, and befriended some really cool people along the way. And then, when it came time for us to redesign our robot, we called on our fellow FIRSTies for help. We were able to ask questions of people who had spent a much longer time in FIRST than we had. Instead of bumbling our way through a season by ourselves, my team chose to ask questions and make connections---and it has made all the difference.
Although it can sometimes be awkward and uncomfortable to approach someone with a question, it’s all worthwhile. Because asking questions of the people around you isn’t admitting some lack of knowledge, but it is admitting your curiosity and drive.
Anna Marie Mitchell
FTC #11872 Visible Spectrum
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