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Byron Laws

Senior Vice President , Strategic Partnerships, KiwiTech
SSP Treasurer

Byron LawsPlease tell us a bit about yourself (e.g. hometown, current locale, course of study).

My Dad was in the military and then pursued a career in academia. My Mom was from the South. As I result, we lived in a number of places as I was growing up, Illinois, Florida, South Carolina, and Utah. At age 19, I served a two-year LDS (Mormon) mission to Mississippi and Louisiana. Following that, I spent four years in the US Air Force, with duty stations in Mississippi, California, Portugal, and Montana. I studied electronic systems in the military, which gave me a start in technology. After separating from the Air Force, I completed an undergraduate degree in marketing at the University of Utah (Go Utes!). I worked in Salt Lake City for several years and then relocated to the Washington, DC, area where I stayed for about ten years prior to moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a couple of years. I now live in Fort Collins, Colorado, and finally feel like I’ve found my true home.

Describe some of your current responsibilities, and what type of organization you belong to.

I currently work in Strategic Partnerships for KiwiTech, a technology development firm that also operates a venture capital investment fund. KiwiTech is headquartered in Washington, DC, with offices in New York City and Colorado, and a large technology development center in Delhi, India. KiwiTech develops technology platforms (web, mobile, custom software) for a wide range of clients, from Fortune 500 companies to publishers to early stage startup businesses. I also serve as SSP Treasurer.

What was your first scholarly publishing role? How did you get that job? What path led to your current position?

I worked for Ovid Technologies right out of college in 1996, educating librarians about Ovid search products for STM content. Ovid was a small privately held company then, but was eventually purchased by Wolters Kluwer and made part of their Medical Research division. I actually got that job by responding to an ad in the (print) newspaper classified ads. Publishing has come a long way since then! Ovid eventually relocated my sales team to the New York City office and instead of relocating, I decided to leave the company, landing in a position selling computer-based employee training for a company then called AchieveGlobal. From there, I relocated to the DC area and landed a job with TechBooks, which was renamed Aptara several years later. At that time, TechBooks had just started some services work for Ovid and I must have seemed like a natural fit due to my previous job there. I worked at Aptara for nearly ten years, then shifted over to PreMediaGlobal (now Lumina Datamatics…anyone see a pattern here?) and finally joined KiwiTech, which was founded by the same team that started Aptara. I would say that the path that led me to KiwiTech was not so much a path as a set of people who have become longtime colleagues and close personal friends as well.

If there was a pivotal moment or key person in your career development, please describe briefly.

In the early 2000s, when I was with Aptara, we responded to a publisher’s RFP for digitization of a large backfile of scholarly content that was to be made available online. We provided work samples as part of the proposal process. Several weeks went by and then we received feedback that our samples were the worst of the bunch! I phoned the publisher’s contact right away to discuss. It was late on a Friday afternoon in the summertime. My contact walked me through all the areas where our sample didn’t meet the requirement. Not knowing how to respond or what to do, I told her I would phone her right back and then quickly ran through the office looking for our CTO to help me salvage the project. I finally found him out back of the building on the tennis courts, in the middle of a heated match. I explained the situation and we both ran quickly back in to resume the call. It turned out that the reason our files were different than those submitted by other suppliers, was that we had gone above and beyond on the samples. We ended up winning that initial project and then went on to digitize millions of pages of research materials thereafter for a wide variety of publishers as we gained a strong reputation for doing high quality digitization work.

What tools, web sites and organizations do you find most valuable for your career development?

Of course I’m a regular reader of the Scholarly Kitchen, but I also do a lot of reading recommended by thought leaders on LinkedIn. I’ve been a member of a number of membership organizations in my career and have always sought to be directly involved on a committee or task force. SSP is particularly good at being inclusive and in offering a wide range of career-developing volunteer opportunities to its members. I also read association publications such as Science Editor and Learned Publishing.

What are some of the surprises/obstacles that you’ve encountered during your career?

I wish I had known more about strategy and “working smart” earlier on in my career. I feel like I wasted a good amount of time and effort trying to work the hardest, when being more thoughtful about my approach to work would likely have yielded even better results.

What do you wish you knew more about?

I wish I were a better fortune teller. In hindsight, everything seems so simple! Of course, the internet would explode and create huge businesses based on meeting very simple needs. Of course, publishers would have a hard time moving away from print-centric models to more diverse methods of content delivery. Of course all of us in publishing would experience the outcome of a very tumultuous time as markets adjust. But then, given that all of this is really quite simple, what’s the most disruptive thing that will happen next in publishing? I have no clue.

What advice would you give to people interested in a career in scholarly communications?

Do not get yourself caught up in the idea of publishing as being this centuries old profession that you can simply hide out in waiting for that pension check to start showing up. Publishing these days is as tech-centric and fast-changing as any market vertical out there. Be prepared for a wild and compelling career ride.

If you have a blog or personal/professional website, please provide a link.

I do not have a blog or website, though I have written in both forms during my career. I tweet on occasion, though not often. I Instagram and SnapChat (mostly what I’m making for dinner). I occasionally post a status update to Facebook. I use WeChat, WhatsApp, and Skype while traveling.

Earlier in the year, Byron visited the University of Utah and shadowed Jean Shipman, director of the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library. Read his experience here to find out what he did, what he learned and how his day shadowing a fellow SSP member benefited his own professional development.