inspiration · women who reign

Women Who Reign: Toby Baratta

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” – Amelia Earhart

Happy weekend Reigners! Meet feminist / activist / technologist, the incredibly eloquent and puntastic (didn’t realize it was a word until now) Toby Baratta. I was so touched by her story. As someone who grew up being bullied, she now wants to use technology to advocate for others, specifically to stop human trafficking. Read on to see the incredible professors who have guided her along the way, how her love of cats and tech intersect, and how you can affect change by being yourself.

Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
I’m a computer science and political science double major at Grinnell College with a concentration in Statistics and am from south Florida. I want to go to graduate school to work on machine learning and data science to stop human trafficking and other crimes. I got into tech through being bullied out of tech in high school and coming back at it in college because I really just loved it. I worked at Google last summer on the Drive team. I’m queer and a feminist and use assistive technology due to ocular migraines and really bad eyesight.

A fun fact would be my partner and I dressed up our rabbits for our moderately ironic “family Christmas photo” and sent it to most of the people we know.

What # would define your life journey?
My life journey I guess could be described by #LifeIsAMarathonNotASprint, or something along those lines. There’s a lot to do all the time but you need to take time to take care of yourself as well and get a good night sleep. Not all of your life should be school, or friends, or work. See the world and be rounded and be passionate.

My favorite app right now would be Neko Atsume, but that’s mostly because I really love cats and am pretty cat-cuddle deprived. It’s also insanely cute and has spawned some interesting memes across Tumblr and Reddit. My favorite website would probably be the LA Times Game page because they post their crosswords online and tell you when you get things wrong so they’re actually solvable. They’re also puntastic.

My professors really inspire me to do better and to be a full and caring person. Professor Jerod Weinman has taught me my passion of research and also the need to be pedantic and accurate when making conclusions and also when writing. He’s taught me that CS is more than just pretty things or even just the code, and most importantly to never name my variables ‘zzz’, even if you are sleep deprived and caring for a newborn. Professor Sam Rebelsky has taught me..I know this sounds cliche, but frankly that there are still people in the world that know what the world is like and can still get out of bed every day. He works a thousand hour days for his students and is the kind of teacher (and person) that I would strive to be. He’s dedicated and caring and he understands that his students are more than their grades, but are made up of their experiences and interests. He truly cares about them and while he’s incredibly snarky all the time, he really lets his students know he loves them. Dr. Stone has also taught me that privacy is paramount and to encrypt everything. Perhaps he wouldn’t like me mentioning him…

Song that makes you want to dance:
The Infinite Abyss of Space by Chris Ayer. It’s peppy and can get me through anything. It also was shared by a really good friend, so I think of that when I hear it.

Technical challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
I’d probably go with my first summer of research. We came in with a plan to look at geospatial distance measurements on historical maps for accurate text recognition, but ended up spending a summer working on complex geographical database linking. I guess my partner, Bo Wang (Grinnell College), and I overcame this by accepting that research doesn’t always go where you expect it to, but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile. We developed means of database linkings that I’m now working to generalize and publish, along with the datasets.

Ideal Job:
I’d love to work for a government or non-profit organization to stop human trafficking or to use machine learning to stop crime. I want to go to graduate school to develop better techniques of bridging tech research and crime stopping particularly with those that are most rejected from the system.

What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Lean in or out as much as you can, to the best of your ability. Your experience is unique and so are those of other women. Do the best that you can and listen to other women. They are not your enemy and they are not your competition. Support each other. Women of color, trans women, disabled women..they all can REIGN and frankly, we need all womyn to fix the tech industry. Keep going and keep kicking ass. By being you, you’re making a change.

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