“I’m a Robotics Geek from the class of 2006...”
Mikell working away while her youngest rests
Mikell’s robotics career began in high school on her FIRST robotics team. She liked the controls side of robotics: using a mixture of software and hardware to program the robot’s actions. Coming into Olin, she was initially interested in software classes with an emphasis on how the curriculum could apply to robotics. Mikell ultimately transitioned toward ECE, and took plenty of Mechanical Engineering classes. Olin has since introduced the Engineering with Robotics major that she would have been very interested in.
While her initial plan for post-graduation was to attend graduate school, she was not accepted. Mikell says that she was “really upset at the time but in retrospect it was among the best things that have ever happened to me.” Instead of graduate school she started working in industry and “Loved it!” Her first two and half years, she worked for Bluefin Robotics, a job she found by attending a PGP-sponsored lunch with the CEO during a campus visit. Bluefin’s CEO had attended Babson, Olin’s neighbor, and was interested in what we were up to here.
After Bluefin, Mikell went to work at Heartland Robotics, which became Rethink Robotics. Her time there was fast-paced and challenging. The company only had five employees when she started but quickly grew. She did not feel that she was able to move around the company and was instead stuck in electrical engineering. She eventually returned to Bluefin, where she spent the next five years as a Systems Engineer and Product Manager.
While traveling for work, Mikell met her husband, a naval officer from Australia. She worked remotely and lived in the UK for two years, and eventually moved to Australia where she was consulting for various robotics companies while also having and raising her first child. Cairns, in Far North Queensland, is not exactly a hotbed of tech, but living there did offer Mikell the chance to get SCUBA-certified on the Great Barrier Reef, and provided effective exposure therapy for her severe arachnophobia. This was also an excellent chance for Mikell to confirm that she was not cut out to be a stay-at-home parent, so when her husband finished his commitment to the Australian Navy, she was eager to get back to full-time work.
In 2016, Mikell moved back to the States to work in the Bay Area, doing aerial robotics research with a private research lab called Otherlab. Mikell recalls that time as a fantastic learning experience, where she was able to steer the direction of the high-level project work and the day-to-day functions of the research group. During this time she attempted to spin one of the drone projects out into a startup - forming a company with a co-founder, pitching VCs, growing a team, and doing all the random tasks that have to be done at early-stage startups, from board meetings to office management to finances. However, she was not successful in raising the money needed to keep the company going and the team disbanded several months later.
Mikell at Veo Robotics
In September last year, Mikell transitioned to work with some former colleagues, which had started a new venture called Veo Robotics. Mikell describes working on this team as “doing lots of random start-up stuff.” At any moment, she might be planning an on-site deployment, working with customers, attending an industrial safety standards conference, managing the company’s hiring, or creating a budget for the engineering team. “Part of why I love my job is because I don’t really have a constrained job description. Because we are an early stage startup, I can ask to be put on certain projects. There is more work than people, so we are able to take initiative on projects that interest us.”
Mikell is currently Senior Director of Program Management at Veo Robotics, and her team is in the customer interaction phase. She relates this experience to the Olin hands-on class called User-Oriented Collaborative Design (UOCD). This class is a required Sophomore-level course that directs students through phases of co-design with user groups. In her job currently, she is using the same practices she learned so many years ago in UOCD.
Since leaving Olin, Mikell has had the chance to put what Olin taught her into practice. UOCD and other classes gave her the chance to understand how to approach design before entering the job field. This experience has made this design approach second-nature to her. Additionally, while she did not take an ethics class at Olin, she felt that the Olin culture fostered conversation around ethical engineering, helping her think about what she was working on and make active decisions about where she dedicated her time and energy.
“Value the relationships you make here as much as you can,” Mikell advises the current student. “This means faculty, staff, and friends. You need these relationships to build critical social capital, and they can be a crucial support system when you need it - especially for women and minorities.”
Mikell’s son sound asleep while resting on the robotic arm