5 reasons these teenagers inspire me


Mark Orttung

What Congressman Ro Khanna and I learned from the NMHS Robuckets (and how you can help) 

(aka the “Robuckets”). I was blown away. Forget any negative stereotypes you might have about teenagers: these have got to be some of the most delightful, curious, diverse, spirited and community-minded young people you’d ever want to meet.

Nexient is honored to be their neighbor in Newark CA, and their first sponsor. 

(In a minute, you’re going to want to get in on this, too – if so, you can support the kids here.)

Here are five reasons I am inspired by the Robuckets:

  1. Competitive robotics brings the thrill of sport to some pretty serious engineering. Students face strict rules and time limits as they build and program industrial-size robots to compete against other teams’ robots
  2. It’s more than just science. Kids must also raise funds, design a team brand, document their strategy and show that they are actively collaborating and raising awareness of STEM in their communities. To me, this seems like great preparation for the realities of working in technology today: you need small, nimble teams with diverse skills to develop great products.
  3. Robuckets team members recently visited our new Silicon Valley headquarters office. They told us and our visibly impressed Congressman Ro Khanna (CA-17) that they’re not competing for themselves, but for their younger siblings and neighbors. “We want robotics to start at the middle school and elementary school level,” explained co-captain Jazz Dhandwar. “The younger you start, the better you get.”
  4. Despite its Silicon Valley proximity, NMHS isn’t an affluent school. About 45% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Nonetheless, the Robuckets successfully competed against some 300 other California teams to qualify as one of approximately 40 teams for regional competition in their rookie season last year. (Initial funding came from food sales and their faculty advisor’s own pocket.) This year, the club has expanded from 15 members to 50.
  5. It’s not just companies like Nexient that depend on the next generation of US tech talent: today banks, retailers, farmers, governments, hospitals and just about every other kind of organization are also technology enterprises. It’s critical to find programs like the Robuckets to motivate our young people to learn about and enjoy creating technology (not just consuming it).
I agree with Rep Khanna that there is a natural partnership between Silicon Valley and America’s heartland. “Tech companies must offer an aspirational vision of how all Americans, regardless of geography, can benefit from a tech-driven economy… [including] offering apprenticeships to help build tech capability in the heartland,” he wrote recently in the Washington Post

That’s one reason why we do most of our software development consulting in places like Michigan and Indiana. We hire not only seasoned pros but also new grads and former teachers, house painters and baristas in the Midwest.

But in about 5 years, I can’t wait to get our first resume from an alum of these inspiring Newark Robuckets.

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