Geek of the Week: With an eye on AI, teen coder Zoe Sheill applies real intelligence to future goals

Zoe SheillZoe Sheill
Zoe Sheill is a senior at Mercer Island High School. (Photo courtesy of Zoe Sheill)

Zoe Sheill hasn’t completed her senior year at Mercer Island High School. But she can’t wait for school to start next year.

That’s because the 17-year-old has been accepted by some of the leading universities in the country — MIT, Princeton, Yale, University of Washington CSE, Columbia and Duke, among others.

“I have not yet decided where I’ll be attending,” said GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week. “In any case, I’m very excited for the upcoming fall.”

In the meantime, she’s enjoying taking courses on the online platforms Coursera and Udemy.

“I’ve taken classes on machine learning, deep learning, web and mobile development, economics, and psychology, which has inspired me to create apps of my own and work on some cool projects,” Sheill said. “Lately I’ve been taking a cool course on MIT OpenCourseWare called Computer Systems Security.”

Sheill is also busy winning awards, serving her community and putting in hours at Pioneer Square Labs in Seattle, where she spends a few hours every day after school coding and helping build product as an AI/engineering intern at the startup studio.

PSL Managing Director Julie Sandler was excited to share Sheill’s story.

“She’s an incredibly talented technologist, creative, thoughtful, energetic, savvy about product development, and I respect her greatly,” Sandler told GeekWire.

Here are a few of Sheill’s accomplishments:

Computer science:

  • Recipient of the Liaison national $5,000 Data Scholarship for work in data science. One recipient biannually out of high school, undergraduate, and graduate school applicants.
  • Programmed WeTutor mobile app, received $5,000 award from Technovation Challenge (one of top two teams in U.S., top 12 worldwide).


  • Second place in MTNA National Music Performance Competition (all woodwinds division) in junior year.
  • Flutist in Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Community service:

  • President, Homeless Education Living Project. Created 750 toiletry bags and 1,200 sack lunches for homeless men, women, and children in Seattle — received Washington state Prudential Spirit of Community Award.

Keep reading to learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Zoe Sheill:

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Robots don’t comprise the majority of machine learning or deep learning applications. A lot of people assume they do, because they’re highly visible and intriguing, but there are far more applications of AI that don’t have physical manifestations, whether it’s disease diagnosis or minimizing the ecological impact of a given venture.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “Rock Lee from Naruto.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “My Ti-Nspire CX CAS calculator. This calculator has been awesome through countless tests and homework assignments.”

Pioneer Square Labs in Seattle where Zoe Sheill spends several hours a day after school. (Pioneer Square Labs Photo)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “There’s fun work like programming and the work that isn’t, like biology homework. The struggle is in motivating yourself to do the homework, which I’m not sure I have any tips for.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Transporter — real Chinese food 24/7!”

I once waited in line for … “6 hours to sled down a hill once with my mom (then we went home).”

Your role models: “Grace Hopper is awesome. She’s a cool female pioneer in computing who doesn’t take anything from anyone.”

Greatest game in history: “‘Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo.’ I played it when I was 6 and thought I had dreamed the whole thing until I was 16.”

Best gadget ever: “Those handheld digital dictionaries. They seem like a modern invention, yet they’re oddly completely antiquated.”

Favorite app: “Coursera.”

Favorite cause: “Helping homeless in Seattle with our club for the homeless at school.”

Most important technology of 2016: “Adversarial neural networks. Algorithms that can improve without more data are the coolest kind of algorithms.”

Most important technology of 2018: “Looking forward to medical diagnostic AI improving and becoming an integrated part of a doctor’s process.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Not sure if I should be giving advice when I haven’t started college, but if there was one thing, it is that I would absolutely recommend taking artificial intelligence or computer vision courses from universities online. They’re close to the absolute best education you can receive on a given topic and they’re almost free.”

Website: Zoe’s Tech

Twitter: @zoesheill

LinkedIn: Zoe Sheill 

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