Meet Mikell Taylor is a distinguished robotics engineer, entrepreneur, mother, and total badass. Growing up, Mikell's parents frequently encouraged her to become an astronaut. “I always knew I wanted to be an engineer, even though I didn’t know what that meant at the time.” While most teens preferred sports, art, and music, Mikell built her first robot as a 16-year-old.
FIRST robotics changed my life, it was then that I decided this is what I want to do.
Mikell’s life-long passion and love for robotics started when engineering students from Ohio State University visited her high school in Columbus, Ohio to start a FIRST robotics team. FIRST Robotics is a worldwide competition where teams of high school students build industrial-size robots programmed to accomplish complex tasks, ultimately competing in a challenging field game. She immediately joined her high school’s team, igniting the beginning of a remarkable career in robotics. “I even took a robot to my senior prom. Nobody thought that was cool back then though,” Mikell laughs.
Mentoring a FIRST robotics team
Mikell pursued her calling in robotics at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Unlike many digital technologies, robotics has a physical impact on the real world. This is what inspired her from the very beginning. “You can literally change the world through something you’ve built and programmed because it can actually move.” She explains. This fascination propelled Mikell on a career trajectory where she's now the Senior Technical Program Manager at Amazon robotics.
Making Science Fiction a Reality with Robotics
Mikell’s fascinating career took her all over the globe. Clearly a destined leader, she was selected as a Team Lead for the first year of NASA’s Robotics Academy during her undergrad. The 10-week residential NASA internship had students work on projects sponsored by the Goddard Space Flight Center. Young Mikell directed a team of 3 other students working on an articulated planetary rover design.
Building robot “ASTERO” at the NASA Robotics Academy
Following graduation, Mikell consulted in Australia, led aerial robotics research in San Francisco and spent time with Bluefin Robotics in Boston and the United Kingdom. During her time at Bluefin, Mikell oversaw the redesign of Bluefin-9, an autonomous unmanned underwater vehicle, which was later bought and used by one of their biggest foreign navy contracts.
Early years at Bluefin Robotics
Flash forward to 2019 and Mikell now leads a technology development program within Amazon Robotics. Mikell is thrilled for this new opportunity to build practical robotics technology that will be serving millions of people across the world. “Robots who move boxes around a warehouse may be boring by someone else’s definition, but these robots are doing such important, meaningful, and useful work. As an engineer, I think the best jobs are the ‘boring’ ones, so I’m delighted to work on robots that have a fundamental purpose in people’s everyday lives.”
Building a Community of Women in Tech
Like most women engineers, Mikell Taylor did not have many women role models. In her early career, the coping mechanism for being a lone woman in engineering was to act as one of the guys.
I kind of channeled my internal misogyny and deliberately avoided hanging out with other women. I went to school with most women that I’m friends with now, but I never talked to any of them back then and I regret that.
Over the years Mikell was able to develop a tight-knit group of friends with other women in robotics. “We’re just a bunch of robot geeks,” Mikell laughs. She advises women, especially in isolated professions, to seek out and make friends with other brave women in the field.
Mikell and her colleagues of Veo Robotics dressed up as Robotics Engineer Barbies, an actual product that Mattel released in 2018
Mikell leads her teams as a seasoned engineer, excellent communicator, and mother of two. She aspires to be the role model for women that she never had growing up. When she was CEO and co-founder of her startup Surfbird, Mikell pitched to VC’s when she was pregnant. “I didn’t try to hide it. They need to see pregnant women pitching and know that it can be done.” In her last role with Veo Robotics, Mikell had the rare opportunity to discuss childcare and manage a real work-life balance under the direction of two female bosses.
A proud mom no matter where the job takes her
As a leader and parent Mikell comments, “I have two kids, one with a very serious health condition, so I try to be as open and transparent as possible when it comes to balancing life and work.” One way Mikell relaxes is through cooking, finding it therapeutic and rewarding, as her son is required to be on a strict keto-like diet.
An Early Supporter of Xena Workwear
Mikell has been one of our first supporters after she discovered us through a friend. “My friend Star Simpson first introduced me to the brand. I usually stay on the pulse of emerging startups and once I heard Xena was creating compliant work shoes for women, I fell in love! I thought it was incredible that they were creating this product because it’s something I’ve been looking for years.”
As a woman engineer, Mikell often experienced the frustration of having to sport oversized steel-toed boots with her work-wear between facilities and offices. “A nice blouse and business slacks with a huge pair of work boots is certainly not a good look. I frequently travel between facilities and offices and this product is truly perfect for someone in my position. I’m actually wearing my Xenas right now.” Mikell boasts.
Mikell Taylor IS the embodiment of "the future is female." She pioneered unchartered territories and excelled as a tech industry maverick paving a path for other women engineers.