Alumni Highlight: Leela Tanikella, Class of 2015

By Maya Rector

Leela Tanikella graduated with her MEng degree in Bioengineering in 2015. She currently works at Intuitive Surgical, where she is a Design Controls engineer. Her favorite part of her job is knowing that she is improving the lives of patients who benefit from the technology that she helps develop. Leela wants current Berkeley MEng students to know that they should have a good time and enjoy their year at Cal.

Do you have any advice for current Berkeley MEng students?

My advice to current students would be to make sure to prioritize having a good time! You are already qualified to excel and succeed in your respective fields, so focus on your personal development and building relationships with your classmates. These relationships are what you take away after the quick year you’ll spend at Cal.

What did you do after graduation?

After graduation, I took some time off to unwind from the year and dove straight into work! I had a job offer in the works before I graduated, so thankfully, I was able to spend my week off without having to stress out. If anything, I would advise current students to take off more than a week before beginning full-time employment!

What are you currently working on?

Currently, I work as a Design Controls engineer at Intuitive Surgical (ISI). At ISI, we design surgical consoles to enable robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery. My job as a Design Controls engineer is to create and maintain design controls documentation, thus ensuring that the medical devices produced by Intuitive Surgical meet and exceed the standards set by the FDA. I utilize my knowledge of Risk management, design controls and ISI operating procedures to ensure that devices are compliant with the official standards.

What do you miss about being a student at the Fung Institute?

For me, the best part of being a student was to be able to have a certain level of autonomy over my schedule. As a student, you can choose to spend your time working on your capstone, exploring the city or hanging out with your classmates. You also get to pick what type of classes/skills you’d like to develop over the next semester. Other than the campus life, I sorely miss being able to sleep in and having great coffee shops within a couple blocks of my apartment!

What have you found most rewarding about the work you’re currently doing?

Easily my favorite part of working for Intuitive is the impact of what we do. Through the daVinci system, we get to save people’s lives every day! That is also reflected in the drive to prioritize patient safety at ISI. Our focus is to always put patients first — at the end of the day, it all comes down to improving the patients’ quality of life.

How has the Berkeley MEng program helped you prepare for entering the field you’re currently in?

A big part of what I do is to be able to collaborate with a broad spectrum of engineers and translate their vision into tangible requirements/risks. In order to do this successfully, it is very important that I can communicate with people of various backgrounds — technical and non-technical. The Fung Institute does a great job of helping students develop their communication skills, and teaching them how to interact with different types of people by providing lots of opportunities to network with alumni and industry professionals.

The Fung Institute does a great job of helping students develop their communication skills, and teaching them how to interact with different types of people by providing lots of opportunities to network with alumni and industry professionals.

Do you have any advice for being a woman in the field, and has that affected you at all (positively or negatively)?

I’m lucky to be working in Silicon Valley, where there is a big focus on inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. Intuitive makes a very active effort to maintain diversity — I work in a group with a very healthy gender balance, and I’m on the leadership board for the Women in Technology group within ISI. That said, it is very important to advocate for and be an ally to other women trying to enter the field. To all my fellow technical women — don’t shy away from your accomplishments, and be your own cheerleader! You’re awesome!

To all my fellow technical women — don’t shy away from your accomplishments, and be your own cheerleader! You’re awesome!

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Here are a couple of quotes I like to live my life by:

“You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.” — Ginny Weasley, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

“Don’t let the Muggles get you down.” — Ron Weasley, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban