Every summer, we entered our sub into the AUVSI RoboSub Competition. Although we were competing against college teams, we didn’t receive any special treatment from the competition organizer, Dave, or his team. The judging standards that applied to them applied to us too.
It made us work that much harder to achieve the same level of success. There were many times — usually late at night when nothing had worked that day — when we wondered whether RoboSub was the right thing to spend our time on. We wondered why we were being held to the same standard, when we didn’t have the resources and knowledge that the college kids did.
Learning by ourselves was more difficult than learning in a classroom setting, where the teacher gives you all the answers. It forced us to truly understand everything we did. When your code segfaults and spoils a perfectly good competition run, you quickly learn to keep track of your malloc() and free() calls. Although I’ve forgotten almost everything I learned in my school’s computer science class, I don’t think I’ll ever forget what I learned in RoboSub.
And every once in awhile, the stars aligned and something on our submarine worked. Or maybe a judge said something nice about our design report. When we succeeded, knowing that we’d earned our success made it feel that much better. We didn’t have many achievements, but we owned every single one through and through.
Dave didn’t give us special treatment. That’s what made the competition special.