Professional Development
Baltimore / Data / Social justice / Startups

This former chemist wants to use the power of data to improve society

Bree Taylor, who founded ATRICA to address social injustices through research-driven activism, talks about learning to code and finding her community.

“When we identify where our privilege intersects with somebody else's oppression, we'll find our opportunities to make real change.” — Ijeoma Oluo (Courtesy Bree Taylor)

This is How I Got Here, a series where we chart the career journeys of technologists. Want to tell your story? Get in touch.

It’s interesting how a background in chemistry can shape a person’s approach to problem-solving, learning and even founding a company.

Bree Taylor, a chemist and data scientist residing in the Coldstream Homestead Montebello (CHUM) neighborhood in East Baltimore, founded her company, ATRICA, last year. ATRICA stands for “Using Activism and Technology to Report on Inequities in Communities.”

The company aims to leverage data and technology to address social injustices. Taylor, an alumna of both Virginia State University and George Mason University who turns 34 on Feb. 15, recognized the potential to make a difference by applying her chemical and regulatory data skills to highlight disparities and empower communities.

ATRICA is in its early stages and wants to focus on supporting organizations with data gathering, processing, visualization and analysis — all with a focus on driving positive social change.

“I’m in the process of working through some packages that appeal more to [our future] client base,” said Taylor, who has already provided services to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“I really just want to go outside, you know, cornering the community [and its] people, you know — whether it’s working with the youth or environmentalists or whoever it is — like, ‘Hey, how can I help?’” said Taylor.

Taylor’s dedication to activism and technology began long before she established ATRICA in 2023. During a recent conversation with Technical.ly for our How I Got Here series, she reflected on her journey and the development of her aspirations to illuminate inequities in Baltimore and beyond, with the ultimate aim of motivating action towards a more just society. Here’s what she said, edited for length and clarity:

What was your first job?

When I was younger? My first one, I think it was Kmart.

Why did you choose to found ATRICA?

So I was a part of the American Chemical Society. I was on their board serving in the different projects they had to help middle school and high school kids get in the lab, just things like that. And it grew to a point where I got a little frustrated with kind of doing it on the side, like, extracurricular.

And I was like, “I really want to use all of my skills and my expertise, my genius that I have, for the community, for people, rather than making some large successful business even more rich and more successful.”

What does the day-to-day look like for a data quality engineer?

Day to day, it looks like some type of morning sync, understanding what other teams are working on, reporting what I’m working on. Throughout the day, attending meetings, probably two or three meetings depending on the company. Sitting in on process meetings or planning meetings. Listening for places where we can ensure quality. … Outside of the meetings, running either manual or automated tests to ensure quality throughout the data pipeline.

Tell us how activism came to be a part of your company.

[I’ve been] serving communities since I was a kid. During that journey, I was an acting activist myself [through] the work that I do inside of organizations, as well as in my, in my walk through life. [I’m] trying to be the best example [or] representative in the spaces that I am for people that look like me whether that means African American, young professional, one [in] an LGBT community, one that is masc presenting … I get to be in spaces where I often don’t see someone that looks like me. And so I carry that with me and when I’m in those spaces, I’m happy to be a representation. And more importantly: When I meet people, especially young kids that look like me, [I’m] happy to tell them I’m a chemist, or any other accolades, to help them to understand that they have the same propensity.

As someone with a background in chemistry, have you experienced any moments or lessons that have significantly impacted your perspective on life or made things clearer for you as a founder?

[I] try to take a different approach at [things]. The role that I play and how I taught myself how to write code and write SQL and stuff like that, [is] because of my training as a chemist. Behind the scenes of you learning chemistry, you’re also learning a lot of critical thinking. You’re learning about processes, you’re thinking about, logic, how things happen. And so, a lot of that is in coding.

How’d you transition from chemistry to data science?

So part of chemistry training [is that] you should be comfortable with data. Most people’s programs, but specifically the program I did at Virginia State University. We did, like, Mathcad, and we did projects where you were heavily using Excel, and so, data is very comfortable for me. And I like math, too.

So yeah, around the time I was looking to transition out of chemistry out of the lab, the road where I was trying to figure out what that looked like, I was on a job and I had two guys that didn’t even know each other [that] were both trying to tell me about data, and specifically how there’s a space for scientists. Like, there’s a niche.

How did you teach yourself to code?

[I met this] one guy [who] is a biologist, and he’s telling me about SQL. And he’s like, ‘You can do this. You can learn this stuff. He didn’t really understand it well, so he wasn’t articulating it very well and I wasn’t understanding even on my own. And so, the other guy’s talking to me about this language called R, which is comparable to Python. They do some of the same things but a little bit more heavy on statistics. And he is a brilliant mathematician. He was a little bit better at articulating the point. And he showed me the book that he’s using. So we’re working at the same organization. In the evenings, I start learning R. I just started teaching myself but in the early stages of it, it just all clicked like, “Oh, this is like a big Excel sheet.”

Your company is almost a year old. What have been your greatest supports in the Baltimore ecosystem?

I had been going to some meetups to get my feet wet, meeting people and getting ideas and things like that, networking. I’m not a part of any accelerators, or I haven’t been a part of any, but I plan to plan to do my research on which I think is most fitting for what I want to do. It may be, for me, a plan for me to apply to the next cohort of one.

I’ve been frequenting the Equitech Tuesdays a lot and I haven’t gone recently since the holidays, but I like that. And the Black Tech Saturdays is where I think I met you? That was really cool and I can’t wait for the next one. I’ve been wanting to make it to those Code & Coffee meetups.

Series: How I Got Here
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