The new world of work requires young people to enter adulthood “career ready.” They must have the strong foundation of knowledge, skills, and capabilities needed for work in the 21st Century. Having these skills, along with life skills like self-confidence and leadership, will empower them to make meaningful contributions in their respective pathways.
Participation in FIRST allows young people to build these critical skills through an expanded team structure that allows them to experiment with jobs and tasks and find where they truly excel. In partnership with a network of corporate sponsors, FIRST helps to prepare today’s youth for the future of work. In celebration of National Engineers Week, we are highlighting a series of FIRST alumni who are leveraging these transferrable skills as engineers in the workforce today.
Chris Golden works for FIRST sponsor Raytheon Technologies as a Systems Engineer. We sat down with him to learn more about how he is using the skills honed through his FIRST participation in his current role.
How/when did you become involved with FIRST?
Freshman year of high school. One of my friends started disappearing every weekend, so I tagged along with him and joined FIRST Robotics Competition team 294: Beach City Robotics. After college I moved home and my mom told me that I had to do something productive, like get a job or volunteer. Volunteering as a robotics mentor sounded way more fun than working. After my first year of mentoring, other mentors and parents helped me with my job search, interviewing skills, and polishing my resume. I landed a job at Raytheon in December 2018 as a Systems Engineer and continued mentoring.
How did your participation in FIRST influence your post-graduation career/education choices?
I was always mechanically inclined, but to be honest I disliked math. I always tell the students and parents that you don’t have to enjoy math to be an engineer, I see math as a tool to solve problems. When you put physics and math in practical applications such as statics and dynamics, it’s suddenly interesting to me.
My mentors on the team taught me the whole engineering workflow, from prototyping, designing in CAD (Computer Aided Design), calculating static forces in gearboxes and pneumatics, to machining parts of metal, to assembly, and finally maintaining the system in competition. The team caught me hook, line, and sinker, and I was heart set on being an engineer. Participating in different outreach events and talking to the mentors about what they did at work got me through college applications and college classes. I can’t thank my mentors enough and I hope I can inspire other students on the team as much as I was inspired by my mentors. Even during my first year as a mentor they continued to teach me how to apply principles I learned through college to real life applications.
What skills did you gain through FIRST that you currently use as an engineer?
Everything. I literally mean everything. Most engineers at the end of the day get to produce tangible items, with a budget and a schedule while working within a team environment. The only difference in what aerospace engineers do is that things are on a much bigger scale with a lower risk margin where parts cannot fail. I have had a lot of different programs/experiences while at Raytheon, from designing STE (standard test equipment), assembling tactical EO/IR (Electro-Optical/Infra-Red) systems, flight test of UAVs in New Mexico, designing a system along with buying parts, writing requirements, writing portions of a proposal, and modeling and simulation in MatLab. Each of these tasks can closely be traced back to an activity on the robotics team. What makes FIRST Robotics Competition unique is that while an aerospace program’s lifecycle lasts years, FIRST Robotics Competition lasts a few months. You get to see the whole system (robot) be thought of, designed, built, and maintained. I could literally talk about this point all day, and I try to make this a selling point to perspective mentors and interested parents.
Who was/is your biggest role model in the world of engineering?
Two of my Highschool mentors, Ken Sterk and Peter Johnson. They are a huge inspiration to me. I also have to throw in Kelly Johnson who was an aeronautical and systems engineer who helped develop the U-2 Spy plane and the SR-71 Blackbird.
How would you describe your job as an engineer?
Depends on the program I work on. I have touched a lot of neat projects and worked with a lot of talented people. I spend some days inside a clean room working with precision optical assemblies getting parts to align to +/- 0.0003 inch, and I spend other days in the middle of nowhere hitting a chunk of metal with a hammer to make it fit within a UAV.
More recently, I have been working on requirements of a tactical system and modeling and simulation. The requirements dictate how the system is designed and the capabilities of the system, and to figure things out I get to talk with extremely senior engineers and learn about why and how they made specific design decisions.
At the end of the day the most important thing to me is the people I work with. Modeling and simulation is taking the theoretical capabilities of the system and testing them in a virtual environment. It is literally setting up and playing video games at work. The most enjoyable and exciting thing about my bit of work is learning more things every day. There is so much knowledge at Raytheon and most people I have worked with are extremely willing to teach and explain things.
What would you consider to be some common misconceptions about engineering or the actual jobs that engineers do?
There are so many! The first one is that you must be a whiz at math. I struggle with math and I am constantly looking up and asking coworkers for help. Also, there are plenty of fields of engineering that are not math intensive, and some that only do math. Not all engineers sit behind a computer all day. There is so much work in labs and out in the field that engineers get to do. Not all engineers are stuck inside all day behind a desk. There are so many different engineering jobs that there is something for everyone.