More than Meets the Robot Eye: How FIRST Robotics Prepares You for Your Future Career

Often called “The varsity sport for the mind”, the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) allows students to combine the excitement and competitiveness of sports with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules and limited resources and time, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team "brand", sharpen teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prearranged tasks against a field of competitors. It's as close to real-world engineering as a student can get.

Digi-Key is proud to be a Diamond Supplier for FIRST Robotics and provides mentors to be a part of local teams. It gives us a chance to revel in students’ excitement around engineering, as well as help guide the potential career paths of students wanting to pursue jobs in technology and engineering.

One such mentoring success is Michael McGrath, an Electronics Technician at Digi-Key and FIRST Robotics alumni. Michael joined FIRST in high school because of his interest in metalworking.

“It was a combination of video games showing off all kinds of old armor and real-life machinery marvels that got me interested in metalworks. My friends in high school told me about this club where we could build robots and I saw it as an opportunity to learn a bit more about metalworking and machinery, and FIRST launched me forward into machining and automation.”

You might be thinking, how does an interest in machining and automation put you on the fast track for a job working for a company that specializes in electronic components? Well, the saying is true. It’s about who you know.

“Some of the Digi-Key mentors on the team saw my interest in learning more about electronics and told me about a scholarship opportunity that Digi-Key was offering where they would offer me a part-time job and help send me through the local college for electronics.”

The Technical Scholarship Program allowed Michael to pursue a degree in the Electronics Technology-Automated Systems Program. He quickly found out that his time being exposed to mechanical and electrical engineering with FIRST prepared him well for his future duties at Digi-Key.

“Being on a small FIRST Robotics team… I got a lot of experience in all aspects of the designing, building, and driving of the robot. I was intrigued by how the robots were able to be controlled and it started my curiosity into electronics.  I use a lot of the skills I started to learn in my FIRST experience such as working as a team, machining, CAD, motor control, wiring, and many others in my day-to-day work with Electronics and Automation.”

Joining FIRST Robotics isn’t just for those interested in engineering. The experiences you gain along the way go above and beyond career interests. Michael explains some of the other benefits he received from joining FIRST.

“I made quite a few friends. I felt immersed in an environment that gave us a glimpse of mechanical and electrical engineering. I learned how to work well in a team where we were all interested and motivated on the task we were working together to complete. It was all around a worthwhile experience.”

For those that might be on the fence about joining a local FIRST Robotics team, Michael offers a small piece of advice.

“If you don’t know what you might be interested in yet, FIRST is a way to learn about a lot of different fields of interest that could become your future career.”

FIRST is a hands-on experience that gives young people the chance to experience a "day-in-the-life" of an engineer. This kind of real-world learning can spark a life-changing passion for technology and Digi-Key is pleased to support such a unique opportunity for our future generation of engineers.

About this author

Image of Kayla Krosschell

Kayla Krosschell is a PR & Marketing Communications Specialist who joined the Digi-Key Electronics team in 2013. She earned her Bachelor of Arts & Sciences degree in Mass Communications and Media Studies from the University of North Dakota where she was a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Her current role includes tasks such as press releases; media relations; integrated marketing campaigns; writing and proofing editorial, advertising, and web copy; and community outreach. In her spare time, Kayla enjoys attending (and traveling to) UND athletic events and the occasional craft beer.

More posts by Kayla Krosschell