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FIRST taught me how to solve problems that don’t have neat answers

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Ajay Penmatcha

FIRST Alum & Donor

By taking on job roles within their teams, FIRST® students learn and use skills such as leadership, critical thinking, problem solving and innovation – skills highly in-demand by today’s biggest industries.

FIRST alum and donor Ajay Penmatcha knows that well as a software engineer at Blue River Technology, a subsidiary of FIRST Strategic Partner John Deere based out of the San Francisco area. His career path began when he joined his Iowa high school’s FIRST® Tech Challenge team as a sophomore, where he focused on programming the robot and configuring its electronics and sensors while also coaching FIRST® LEGO® League. His experience helped set Ajay on a path to studying computer science at Princeton University and connected him to his first internship as an app developer at John Deere, employer of his lead team mentor. He also completed internships for the a government agency utilizing his machine learning skills and as a software engineering intern at Microsoft before graduating and setting his sights on Silicon Valley.

In FIRST, Ajay was drawn to the opportunity to solve problems that didn’t have neatly contained answers, with room to fail and learn from those errors.

“The real world is about uncertainty and making tradeoffs,” he said. “When the algorithms you learned in school don't cut it, or your plans don’t work or your information in a given domain is incomplete, that changes the way you think about problems and react to failures. Having that real-world experience so young, through FIRST, was huge.”


Below, Ajay shares his tips for future FIRST alumni on making the most of their FIRST experience:

1. Learn from others. It’s not just about building technical skills. Learning from others teaches you how to learn, raises your awareness of other challenges, and helps you recognize different ways to solve a problem. Take a break from your own work to see what another team is working on and offer a hand.

2. Nurture the connections you gain along the way. My team mentor, who I worked side by side with in FIRST Tech Challenge, could directly vouch for my experience when I applied for my internship.

3. If you valued your FIRST experience, look for ways to give back. Think about how amazing FIRST is and how you got to be part of it. You benefited from the work of volunteers, staff, school administrators, donors, sponsors. There are many ways to give back and help keep FIRST programs going for future students. I chose to give back as a FIRST donor.

Join Ajay in becoming a FIRST donor

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