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I create innovative automated solutions as a software developer

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Michael Hodson

FIRST Alum & Mentor

FIRST® alum Michael Hodson nurtured his interest in robotics and automation as a programmer on his high school FIRST® Tech Challenge team, the Mecha-Hampsters, in Greenwood, Indiana. Now, he’s a software developer for a specialized combine team at John Deere, coding user interfaces and algorithms to advance technology in the agriculture sector. “The time I spent at robotics meetings really helped cement in my mind my desire to create innovative automated solutions for interesting problems, and now I do that every day,” he says.

What did you do after becoming a FIRST alum?
I joined the Mecha-Hampsters during my junior year of high school; I had friends who’d been on the team already and wanted to join them due to my interest in robotics and automation. We did well my first year, and I learned a lot. I was able to be the face of my team and run our display in the pits. We were even able to go to the FIRST Championship my senior year where we were the captain of an alliance!

In 2013, I graduated from high school and went to Purdue University, where I majored in mechanical engineering, with a minor in electrical engineering. I joined the group Purdue FIRST Programs during the spring and helped to grow FIRST Tech Challenge teams in Indiana. During my junior year I studied abroad in Ireland and coached a FIRST® LEGO® League team while I was there – it was definitely way easier to leave the country than leave FIRST, even for a semester! I graduated from Purdue in 2017, and I now work full time as a software developer at John Deere.

How has your FIRST experience impacted your post-graduation life?
While I was at Purdue, I interned with (FIRST Strategic Partner) John Deere for two summers. Where I grew up in Indiana was around farms, so I knew about John Deere and had a lot of respect for the company and its products; plus, they’re a great sponsor for FIRST teams, and I had lots of friends from Purdue who were working there. If that wasn’t enough, the agriculture sector is way further along than we give credit for when it comes to controls automation and advanced technology.

Now that I’ve graduated, I am a software developer for a specialized combine team at John Deere, working on UI and algorithms. It might seem strange with my mechanical and electrical degree, but I was a lead programmer on my FIRST Tech Challenge team, and it’s a great fit! The work is very challenging and interesting, and each day is different from the previous, which really keeps me on my toes and helps me to learn a lot. We also have a really great team here and work together a lot. Some days it feels like trying to get the robot to move back in my FIRST Tech Challenge days. The time I spent at robotics meetings really helped cement in my mind my desire to create innovative automated solutions for interesting problems, and now I do that every day.

You’ve continued to be involved with FIRST as an alum; what have you been up to?
Last year, I judged for FIRST Tech Challenge at the World Championship in Detroit, which was an amazing experience. I’ve also stayed in touch with the Mecha-Hampsters, the CC Sparks, and the other teams around Purdue that I worked with in the past. More recently I started working with the Winter Soldiers here in the Quad Cities, after they presented at Deere. They had a crazy cool arm robot with no wheels and I helped them figure out the math for moving it in Cartesian coordinates. Those guys are smart; they picked up my college-level coursework in no time flat! One of my favorite mentoring memories is when I taught an artistic student how to design with CAD, and then in a presentation he referred to me as “my mentor” (vs. ‘our mentor’). That really helped me understand the individual impact of mentorship.

Join Michael in volunteering at the FIRST Tech Challenge Iowa Championship or any of the many other FIRST events throughout the season.

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