"Our mission is to design innovative and accessible programs that build not only science and technology skills and interests, but also self–confidence, leadership, and life skills," explains FIRST engineer Eric Rasmussen. Founded by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the "Segway" personal transport device, FIRST's major annual events are the FIRST Robotics Competition which combines the excitement of sport with science and technology to create a unique varsity sport of the mind for high school students, and the FIRST Lego League, which uses LEGO Mindstorms technology to inspire middle school students to become future scientists and engineers. In addition, the organization maintains FIRST Place, a Manchester, New Hampshire facility offering a range of science and technology programs designed to appeal to primary school children.
Administering these programs requires the management and manipulation of a great deal of data — student registrations, tallies of competition scores, and general everyday office functions. "Several years ago, we recognized a lack of scalability in our registration process for the FIRST Robotics Competition," Eric recalls. "Teams would fill out paper forms and fax them to us, and we'd manually type them into our FileMaker database. It was time consuming for our staff and frustrating for our customers, who often found themselves competing for available fax lines. We recognized we had to make the process a lot more scalable — or hire more employees than we could afford."