Enable Education was hooked on FIRST even before our first competition season.
Here was an organization and competition that expected the best of students, and really challenged them, not just technically, but in terms of their character. Volunteering locally was great, but I really wanted to help more than just one team.
I had found my way into FIRST because of my experience with the newly-adopted control system, the cRIO controller and the LabVIEW programming language, both from National Instruments.
As it turns out, earlier that year, my company had just released our online LabVIEW training videos, which included a regular (and free) video blog. It seemed very natural to use that expertise and infrastructure to make some FRC-specific training videos, targeting kids. These were called the “LabVIEW Mastery Tip Jar”, and they started rolling out in the FRC pre-season, even before most teams saw the cRIO and LabVIEW for the first time.
Over the next few months, our “side project” boasted more than 30,000 hours of viewing. Let me repeat that… we gave away over 15 person-YEARS of free LabVIEW training to kids.
As we had done this on our own initiative only, I remember fondly a pretty funny call from Stephanie at National Instruments. It went something like this: “Hi Ben, at all of the regionals we keep getting thanked for our amazing Tip Jar videos. We’re not doing any videos. Who are you, and why don’t you come down to the FIRST world championships and talk to us.”
On top of this, students, teachers, mentors and parents graciously took time to email and call to thank us for lending a hand. By the time FRC World Finals rolled around, I had FRC students in the pits pulling me aside because they recognized my voice, even over the rumble of robots and power tools. I kept hearing, “Oh, you’re that Ben guy from the Tip Jar!” How much better does it get for an educator than to know that something you’ve produced has been so useful to so many?
It’s now been more than 4 years since I first volunteered with my local team, and I’m proud to say that every year, we’ve become more and more involved, and on a bigger scale. More details will be given in the next installment of this blog thread, but if you’re a team struggling with programming, or if you just want to be enchanted by the sound of my voice, visit www.FRCMastery.com, or download our app for iOS or Android.
Ben Zimmer is President and Co-Founder of Enable Education. On top of all the educational benefits of FIRST, he thinks it’s pretty cool that people get to build robots.
FRC 3 Robotics 4 Volunteering 1