It started with a racehorse breaking it’s leg. In 2006 the race horse Barbaro shattered his leg during the second race of the Triple Crown. I was watching the race with a group of my friends from Pony Club(Think like a way tougher and ballsier version of Scouts but totally focused on horses.) He ended up undergoing surgery, having tons of pins put into his leg, going lame, and then having to be put down because of it. I theorized that if he had instead had the leg amputated they might have been able to keep him alive because either way he was never going to race again.
This inspired a science fair project about prosthetic legs for horses. I did a ton of research and made a very rough prototype of a more advanced prosthetic leg than what is available even today. That Science Fair project won me the Hubert Hoover Award and sparked a serious science fair addiction. Unfortunately there was little opportunity for prosthetic research for a Midwestern farm girl. At this point I didn’t just want to compete in science fairs I wanted to win and robotics was the closest thing I could get to prosthetic.
The benefit with robotics is that I didn’t need special oversight or to use an actual lab. I lived on a farm and had easy access to a wide variety of tools and my dad set me up a little bench in the back of his shop. My Dad and my grandpa tought me how to use many of their tools and pretty much let me run around and play with power tools. My mom the biologist tought me the scientific method and helped find me mentors and books.
It was a great time in my life and every year my projects placed higher. (Other than the one year I decided to build a hoover craft. It was a terrible idea and I didn’t win anything.)
Somehow my family found out about the first robotics competition but it wasn’t something I could enter on my own. I needed a team. So I assembled a team from like five different counties of every kid in the right age range I could talk into joining which wasn’t very many. It was a farming community so what sort of robot did we build. Well we took inspiration from the things we knew, tractors!
Great big sturdy pieces of equipment. We did not have the most technologically advanced robot but it was sturdy. A lot of teams were very kind and helped us entirely rewire it on the first day of competition due to none of the wiring being to spec. We had to cut chunks off to get it down to weight. I had to entirely reprogram it after all I was the only kid who had done any programming before. It was sturdy though so as the days went on it just kept going. We could play defense so hard because well it wasn’t going to break even if it got flipped over. We ended up wining and getting to go to the international competition.
During the last 3 years of highschool I ended up going to 5 international competitions, 2 FIRST Robotics, 2 Science Fairs(I’m a two time ISEF Finalist.), and performing with a drill team at the World Equestrian Games. I got to see Princes, Princesses, and Bill Nye the Science Guy. It was insane and wonderful.
I ended up getting a scholarship to a great engineering college and because of all the robotics decided I wanted to be a Mechanical Engineer. Two years in and an internship and I realized Mechanical Engineer’s didn’t do what I thought they did. I realized that degree path wasn’t for me after all I wouldn’t get to play with controls till at least senior year and if I switched to CompSci well I could start doing similar stuff a lot sooner.
It was the right choice. Immediately after switching majors I got offered a research position. I had a terrible boss for that position but it was paid and ended up helping me get my second one. The second one helped me get an internship at a Fortune 500 company which admittedly I was driving 1.5 hours one way for but it was great. It really solidified that I loved programming. Admittedly I had always loved programming I just hadn’t really realized it. I was still a little in love with controls though so when an opportunity to work full time while finishing school as a Controls Engineer/Programmer presented its self I took it. I ended up quitting it due to reasons I’ll probably end up explaining in another post but I was able to use the money from it to pay off my student debt.
That’s how I ended up here deeply in love with programming with an almost completed CompSci degree that I have been working on for so many years its ridiculous. Its a pretty unique way to get into programming and I always get a lot of questions when I tell people that I got started because a race horse broke his leg. It really was what started it all for me though.