It’s Not About the Robots
FIRST Global Challenge icon
Nov 9, 2022

I was thrilled to attend the FIRST Global Challenge in Geneva in October, where Lam was a Gold Sponsor. The competition arena was full of high-school students, but I was the one who got an education.

Here’s the first thing I learned: It’s not about the robots.

  • …It’s about how the kids from the Ukraine built their robot
  • …It’s about how the Bhutan team got passports
  • …It’s about the human experience

The FIRST Global Challenge is an Olympics-style robotics competition whose teen participants are equally interested in the coopertition®. At this event, forming alliances with other teams to solve critical problems pays off better than working alone. That sounds like the kind of strategic mindset needed in future tech leaders.

Stories of Resilience

  • The Ukraine team couldn’t receive their kit in advance, so they arrived and built their robot in one day.
  • The students from Bhutan were unable to get passports in time to travel, so the King of Bhutan gave them diplomatic passports.
  • The US team could afford only a basic CO2 sensor so they created an algorithm to boost its capabilities.
  • An MBA mom, who quit her job to create a team for her daughter and others, is still sponsoring teams today in India.

Of course, we want these bright, motivated high school students to pursue STEM education and careers. We know that tech will be the solution to our world’s biggest problems in the decades to come. But it’s the human connection that takes center stage here. Stereotypes disappear on the floor of the arena. Everyone is equal, regardless of where they’re from, what language they speak, or how they got here.

It was an honor to watch the students collaborate in those alliances. When one team noticed an alliance member having a problem with their robot during a match, they ran over to help resolve it. For the 180+ teams here, the goal isn’t to beat the other guy, it’s to team up to fight the negative effects of climate change on a global scale.

There’s always a Team Hope, consisting of 100% refugees. This year, the team was from Syria, and women set up a website to sell their crocheted items to help fund the team. I heard similar stories from so many students – how their communities came together to raise money, find coaches, give crash courses in English, and overcome incredible obstacles to get their teams to Geneva.

I have a lot of respect for what founder Dean Kamen has established. It’s a healthy, supportive environment where kids get the same attention and adrenaline rush as at any other sporting event. But FIRST Global wants everyone to be able to compete – there are tech roles, but teams need marketing, business, finance, and organizational skills too. And everywhere was evidence of what the kids had learned about the 2022 Challenge topic – the importance of capturing carbon before it disappears into the atmosphere, resulting in catastrophic climate impact.

The Challenge inspired thousands of caring, innovative future leaders poised to make a difference by uniting technology and human understanding. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

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Students at FIRST Global Challenge in Geneva