(Disclaimer: This thread ultimately leads to a fundraiser. You’ve been warned.)
I don’t know how many of you see me commenting on threads pretty much daily, but over the last few months since I’ve become active, I’ve completely fallen in love with the forums and the people on it. Never before have I had the opportunity to think of, learn, and debate so much about robotics in such a short amount of time. It’s honestly a thrill in it’s own category. However, that’s the only good part about my current situation. Let’s talk:
I joined my school’s VEX club in December 2016 when my AP Computer Science teacher told me there was an open spot on one of our teams. I remember being extremely reluctant to join, and only started learning ROBOTC about 2 minutes before I got to my team’s first build meeting. After it took me about 4 hours just to code a simple arcade control scheme for the robot’s base, my teammates debated their choice of even letting me on. How could a programmer that takes 4 hours to code an arcade drive even hope of achieving something noticeable in an actual competition setting? Yeah, I was feeling pretty down right about then. I even remember thinking, “Why did their previous programmer refuse to give them any of their code?” I had heard rumors that the fallout that caused her to leave the team was harsh, but I had no idea what had really happened, so I just chugged along (albeit a little slowly) for the first few weeks or so.
Everything changed after my first regional competition with the team in January of 2017. I had spent a cumulative twelve hours working on a hanging autonomous, which my team expected me to have ready by the time it came around. At that point I didn’t even know that sensors existed, let alone that they would even help, so everything was time-based (at least my programming had methods, though; I learned in CompSci that hard coding was a no-go pretty early on in the class). That day marked a change in my general attitude towards VEX; it really piqued my creative interest. That day, my hanging autonomous rocked the regional, and my programming skills I had cooked up on the spot (literally in 30 minutes) put us in second place for the event. I was feeling pretty confident by the time the day ended.
From then on until the State Championship in February 2017, I did nothing but hone my programming. In that time, I learned about insanely cool uses for sensors, PID turning, multi-threading, and pretty much everything else a programmer can dream of. While comparing it to now my programming was still awful, it was a huge improvement for me, not just in the code but in my mind. Even though I was literally a 3-month rookie, I was so ready to take home the trophy at States. While we didn’t actually win the event, we got Tournament Finalists, as well as third place in Robot Skills, both of which qualified us for Worlds. My heart almost exploded with joy that day.
The 8 weeks leading from then to Worlds was actually one of the more stressful ones of my life. At that time, I tried to branch out even more–I tried to help during the rebuild, but I was shot down by almost everyone. To them, as well as to my club sponsor and mentor, I was a programmer, nothing more. That was what I was brought into the club to be, and that was all I would ever be. It was a harsh reality, and for a while I accepted it.
We didn’t end up doing very well at Worlds. In fact, we went 0-10 in qualifier matches. I wish I was joking. I felt so humiliated that day, but also extremely frustrated in the fact that had the team taken any of my mechanical suggestions and/or let me help out, the robot wouldn’t have had any of the mechanical failures that it did, and we would have done leagues better. I wasn’t sure whether or not to be mad at them for not listening to me, or mad at myself for letting me take their condescending remarks about how I wasn’t meant to build. I felt utterly defeated.
Going into ITZ, I was a lot more hopeful for my participation on the team. I was now allowed to come to build meetings and pitch in a few ideas here and there. I guess they realized that I was right about Worlds, so perhaps I would be right about this, too. The concept worked great until the first regional competition of the season, where immediately after we lost in the semifinals I suggested a change to the robot. They took it very harshly, as if I wasn’t satisfied with their building abilities. They took it as a personal insult, and I wasn’t invited to a building session for a while.
After the second regional, the same thing happened. I suggested trying out a roller intake, and they kept repeating how they just didn’t like it. I even made a spreadsheet listing the pros and cons of both a claw and roller intake, as well as the professional opinions of multiple top teams as I either PMed them or read their comments on other threads, including 8675A, 1961X, and 9065C. My teammates didn’t even take the time to read a word on that spreadsheet. I would’ve understood if they read it, analyzed it, and ultimately came to the decision that a claw was better for them, but no. The link I sent them was never even opened. I felt betrayed, like we were back at Worlds the season before, where my opinion held negative weight.
After our last regional before winter break, I made a few more suggestions. A 6-bar on the top of the lift, only using 1 tower for the lift to make more space, putting the gearing for the mogo lift on the inside of the drivetrain, and the resuggestion of a roller intake are all some of the topics I mentioned. They told me they finally agreed after seeing our performance at the last regional, and they said that they would take the next month to make any and all changes.
In 3 weeks, they changed the mogo lift (not even to be inside the drivetrain, but something else they thought was better because it didn’t interfere with the tower for the lift that they refused to take off; all it did was just make the robot heavier, which was not good for our turbo base). That was it. In 3 weeks, they had changed something that I could’ve done in 3 hours. This was when I finally realized why their old programmer left, why nobody else would join their team, why I was not the right fit for them: they didn’t see VEX as a commitment. When I confronted them about this, they openly admitted that they were okay with a mediocre robot. They said there were plenty of okay robots with a similar designs to ours, therefore we didn’t need to try anything new. Flabbergasted, this response directly opposed the fact that, to me, VEX as an obligation, not a hobby, and I wasn’t okay with mediocrity, I wanted to be the best.
In January of this year, I told my team that as soon as the season ends, I would unfortunately have to leave their team. I offered to tutor them in programming just in case they couldn’t find someone else by then (although they’d probably just pick someone else from the CompSci class like they did to me), as well as anything else I could do to help them transition, but the moment the news hit them, I knew I had lost them for good. Let’s just say that my relationship with them now is pretty much irreparable. I lost a lot of sleep that week. And a lot of water from my tear ducts. A looooooot of water from my tear ducts.
That decision that I reached was made knowing full well the financial consequences of such actions. I wasn’t going to let money impact my ability to express my own opinions in a field I now knew better than my own former builders. I knew that I probably wasn’t going to get a V5, or any parts (even though my former team has 4 bins of unused metal that they refuse to share with anyone else) at all. I was okay with that, because I hoped that I could do better even with scraps and pieces. I still do.
The day after this year’s State Championship (in which we lost in the semifinals because the opposing team sliced my battery cable in half and we couldn’t move the entire match, but the ref “didn’t see anything”), I realized that I was even worse off than I initially thought. One of our senior teams was supposed to be donating me their parts, but that was no longer the case. My school itself would also not be able to fund a single penny in my direction. A friend suggested opening up a fundraiser, instead, so that I could budget the amount raised for whatever I would need. Thinking, “What could it hurt?”, I launched one they day after. It was originally marketed towards family and friends, but over the past few weeks it’s slowly started to plateau. We’re at about 25% of our goal, and I hope to reach at least 50% by the time Worlds comes around, but at this pace I don’t see that happening without any outside help.
This is why I’ve spent all this time explaining my past, present, and hopes for the future. I know that in the end, I’m basically asking for your money, but I felt that if I took the time to explain why I really, truly need this money, perhaps someone could sympathize. Even a sum like what I’m asking for is only enough for 1 or 2 robots (depending on how demanding next year’s game is), it would be a huge help to a team that’s basically a bunch of outsider kids that know they can do better than their current situations if they all come together. If anyone who reads this could please consider donating a few dollars, any amount would make me extremely grateful. I hope to start my team strong next year, and hopefully I can prove to not only my fellow teams, but also to myself, that I have what it takes to do this. All I need in order for that to happen are the resources.
The fundraiser can be found here: https://www.gofundme.com/kickstart-my-future-in-robotics
Thank you for reading this absurdly long story, and feel free to PM me if you have any questions/comments.
Michael Gonzalez (Team 4411S)