Mikell Taylor

Mikell Taylor

Senior Project Engineer
San Francisco, CA, United States
Mikell Taylor
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Raised in Columbus, Ohio and now living in San Francisco, Mikell Taylor is a self-described robotics geek. She leads a team called Sky Machines at private research company Otherlab. Sky Machines is working on a variety of novel autonomous aerial platforms - drones, but not in the way you're thinking! Previously, she spent seven years as a Systems Engineer at Bluefin Robotics. Bluefin, based in Boston, designs and manufactures autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUVs. These swimming robots investigate shipwrecks, ice floes, chemical characteristics, and other curiosities in the depths of the world's oceans. Mikell has also worked on manufacturing robots, planetary rovers, and autonomous ground vehicles, not to mention quite a few different robotic athletes through the FIRST Robotics Competition. In the future she hopes to share her robot geekiness with the world by commercializing robotic consumer products. She obtained her Electrical and Computer Engineering degree from Olin College of Engineering in Needham, MA in 2006 as a member of the inaugural class, and in 2011 she was selected as a Woman to Watch by Mass High Tech. Mikell loves to travel, whether for work or for pleasure, and she is an avid reader who doesn't go anywhere without her Kindle.
  • I am willing to be contacted by educators for possible speaking engagements in schools or in after school programs or summer camps.
  • I am willing to serve as science fair judge or other temporary volunteer at a local school.
  • I am willing to host a field trip to my place of employment.
  • I am willing to be interviewed by interested students via email.
Answers by Mikell Taylor


First off, I really have to apologise for how long it has taken me to respond to you. I had a baby last year and in the lead-up to that I really lost track of a lot of my messaging. I'm very, very sorry! Thank you for taking the time to write to me!

It's an honour to know that you consider me a role model, but I have to say I'm incredibly impressed someone living in a culture that strongly discourages women from doing jobs like this reaching out and pushing the boundaries of what would normally be expected of you. Congratulations to you for having the strength to do that, and I wish you the best of luck!

It's a great question you have. I think the answer really depends on your interests. You can work on smart devices and robotics with either of those degrees, so if you happen to love one more than the other, it shouldn't matter too much. However, if you are still torn, it helps to look at what the "hard problems" are in each of those fields, and what those degrees might enable you to do to solve them.

For example, in smart devices, the biggest challenges include industrial design (needing to blend into the home or be attractive enough to be wearable), miniaturisation of electronics (especially sensors), battery power, user interfaces, and smart networking. Does any of those sound particularly exciting? That might guide you in an electrical or CS direction.

Within the robotics industry, the biggest challenges include the design and manufacturability of mechanisms, sensor fusion, development of new advanced sensors, battery power (this is a big, big issue for robots!), artificial intelligence, autonomous navigation, networking and communication, and human/robot interfaces. Again, some of these might stand out more to you than others, and you could choose appropriately.

Based on my own university experience, I would say CS would probably set you up better for a graduate degree in robotics, if you want to get a PhD some day -- most graduate research projects I know of require a lot of programming, and they tend to focus on the hard software problems in robotics. Electrical engineering degrees often have a programming requirement, so you would learn some software engineering along with the EE side, and that may be preferable if you want a broad introduction to engineering and to apply it immediately in industry. 

Honestly, though, I don't think you could make a mistake choosing one over the other right now. Both will be applicable to the fields you're interested in, and both will teach you *how* to engineer well enough that you can learn the material from the other discipline if you need or want to in the future. 

Please feel free to ask other questions if you have them, and I promise that this time it won't take me six months to respond! Again, I'm very, very sorry.