FIRST Tech Challenge, Robotics, Automation: A Freewheeling Conversation with Hans Wolf
- August 22, 2019
Sport comes in all flavors: there are physical sports, and there are activities that flex the brain. “It’s the latter that brought out all the passion, adrenaline and competitiveness for my son,” says NTT DATA’s Hans Wolf and adds, “In particular, the FIRST Tech Challenge event, the ultimate sport for the mind.”
When Hans discovered that his middle son (then in middle school) was not attracted to traditional physical sports but thrived when it came to robotics, he enrolled him in the FIRST Tech Challenge program. Says Hans, “I am a geek at work, and I am a geek outside work, so I could identify with my son and support him in his passion for robotics.”
Today Hans’ son works as a software engineer, currently focused on “an exciting” maritime project, while Hans, ever passionate about robotics, is an affiliate partner for FTC Florida and mentors children for the FIRST Tech Challenge.
FIRST is an acronym for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Technology.” It was started by Segway inventor and entrepreneur, Dean Kamen, who has a great passion for technology and wanted to make STEM accessible and cool. The FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) is for students (7-12 years) where teams need to design, build, program, and operate robots and compete. The competition runs from September through April every year. Hans explains, “FTC teaches kids programming, mechanics, engineering and making the robot itself. It also teaches them soft skills such as teamwork, the art of persuasion, persistence, and the drive to go accomplish something.”
FTC is an extremely competitive program with over 6,000 teams from around the world. The annual competition has a theme every year; last year’s theme was space. Each team had to build a rover. “You can watch this year’s finals and other cool inventions in the First Tech Challenge YouTube channel,” says Hans passionately.
Hans brings the same passion to his new role in the NTT DATA Services CTO Office, where he is driving the company’s enterprise automation capabilities to offer end to end solutions for clients.
Hans says, “The goal is to expand and align our existing automation solutions that reside across our organization to better support our customers.” Hans spent most of his career in apps development and apps legacy modernization, which included helping customers automate their business processes in areas as diverse as insurance underwriting, claims processing, options trading, software delivery, healthcare enrollment, and a broad range of customer service functions. So, over the years, Hans gained hands-on experience, industry expertise, and an in-depth understanding of all that it takes to plan and execute automation projects.
To help clients understand automation and create an itinerary for their automation journey, Hans classifies automation into:
- Software Delivery Automation: The tools and frameworks that automate the software delivery process for application development and deployment;
- IT Operations Automation: The capabilities to enable an automated IT platform that includes data center, end-user, and application support functions; and
- Business Operations Automation: Solutions that help automate business processes
Once clients have classified their automation journey, they need to understand their data. “You can’t automate without understanding the data and information,” reiterates Hans. After clients have a clear picture of the different elements of automation and how data plays into that narrative, they need to represent that work through an “automation fabric” as Hans likes to refer to it. It is the middle layer that includes all the finer details of tools, processes, rules, and which automation is implemented by humans and which by machines. “This, of course, is a simplistic description of how automation projects work; for the real deal, come talk to us,” he says cheekily.
Balancing his profession and passion rests lightly on his shoulders, and it’s easy when they are complementary too. He says, “In my day job I love to guide clients in their quest for automation, and after work hours I love encouraging students to become inventors and creators of tomorrow. I’m a full-on, full-time geek.”