Laura BaldwinLaura Baldwin began working with O’Reilly in October 2001 as Chief Financial Officer and added Chief Operating Officer to her responsibilities in October 2004.

She became O’Reilly’s first President in March 2011 and is currently responsible for O’Reilly’s businesses worldwide.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I started out in banking, which is where I learned how to marry my math skills with process and business. From there I transitioned into roles in cash management and finance. It didn’t take long for me to understand that finance is really telling the story of the operational decisions made every day in service of the business—and I’ve immersed myself in the business operations of every company I’ve worked for. That personal curiosity around business decision-making and strategy development led me to my current role at O’Reilly. I first joined the company as CFO, where I intentionally led the team through an operational decision-making lens. That resulted in promotions to COO and then president.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t plan my career, per say, but I always knew I wanted to be in a leadership position. When I was 29 years old, I remember thinking, “I want to be a CFO by the time I’m 35.” And it happened when I earned the title with Chronicle Publishing. But the rest of my career path has really been a combination of my love of numbers and my natural curiosity.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I’ve faced my fair share of challenges throughout my career. But one significant one that comes to mind was taking the reins of O’Reilly from the company’s iconic owner and CEO, Tim O’Reilly, in 2011. Tim built the company from the ground up, and for 33 years it served a community of technology and business visionaries with its educational books. At the time, print publishing—an industry that has slumped at pace with the internet’s rapid growth—made up about 75% of O’Reilly’s revenue. I knew that to succeed we’d need to build a new paradigm for bringing our editorial instincts to market. It was imperative to transition to an audience-first approach and build out new capabilities such as video, newsletters, and training courses. We developed a path to become a true media company, which secured our current evolution into a digital learning organisation. As time would prove out, it was ultimately the right decision. But it wasn’t a popular one at the time, and it faced much pushback by employees all the way up to my peers on the executive team. But my career journey has taught me that the numbers tell the story, and we did what was right for the business. Even when it wasn’t easy.

This would prepare me for another tough business challenge that came last year at the onset of the pandemic. In March 2020, we made the difficult decision to shutter our live conference business, which drove almost $40 million in annual revenue. As was the case with our transition from publisher to media company to online learning platform a decade prior, we had to weigh what was working presently—and decide what would put O’Reilly in the best position to serve our learners now and in the future. While this was an extremely difficult decision, both personally and professionally, it enabled us to create an innovative solution through a new virtual conference series. Despite the uncertainty of 2020, we achieved 24% year-over-year sales growth in new business across our enterprise learning solution. Again, we did what was right for the business even when it wasn’t easy.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’ve long been an advocate for promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and I’ve worked my entire career to elevate and promote talent when I saw it—and in tech that includes women. That’s why 49% of the O’Reilly senior team (director level and above) is made up of women; a number far above the North America average of 29% per

But given the horrific events over the last several years—and the trenchant demands being made to meet them, including from the Me Too, Black Lives Matter, and Stop Asian Hate movements—it’s clear we still have a very long way to go. From both a social and humanitarian standpoint but also from a professional one.

In 2015, O’Reilly created a diversity and inclusion scholarship program to help people from underrepresented communities more easily attend our events. We made a concerted effort to improve the diversity of our lineup of experts at our conferences, and within two years 30% of our keynote speakers were women. Within five years 100% of speakers at our virtual open source event were women.

When our in-person events were shuttered we still wanted to ensure the O’Reilly community remained welcoming to everyone. So just this month we announced a new scholarship program to provide access to the O’Reilly learning platform to help people from underrepresented groups stay on top of technology trends and set them up for career success. What started as a move to abate the “brogrammer” culture that was proliferating in Silicon Valley at the time has evolved into a more critical call to action to change the face of technology for good. These initiatives are ones I’m proud of, and they’re some of the best ideas I’ve brought to the company.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?   

I’ve been very fortunate to have great mentors throughout my career, but the one who affected me the most was Kathy Franzen, CFO of Giorgio Beverly Hills in the mid-eighties. I watched her navigate the company’s all-male executive team with grace and dignity, and she never deferred to the male leadership in the room as I had previously seen women do in the workforce. Instead, she challenged them—which made them and everyone else around her better. She gave me opportunities because she saw potential in my hard work; she elevated those who earned it. I learned how to lead and grow talent simply by watching her, and she was shaping my career without even knowing it. She taught me early on to have a voice and not be afraid to use it.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

To excel in the fast-paced tech industry (or really any field), you need to be a student. You simply can’t cultivate progress or innovation without the desire to learn. Find out what tools and resources your company offers to help you build skills. If there aren’t any existing solutions in place, propose some options to your managers or the HR department to help your organisation promote a culture of innovation. There are so many ways your company can invest in its talent, from learning platforms and virtual event passes to online certification programs and even local college courses. Encourage them to do so. Because when companies provide ways for employees to learn, they strengthen their own business position and gain a competitive edge. And when you take initiative to advocate for yourself and your coworkers, it demonstrates how much value your ideas can add to the organisation. Imagine what your businesses could accomplish by arming its entire workforce with the ability to learn on the job? It’s invaluable.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome? 

There are absolutely still barriers for success for women in tech, and in order to fix it we need to start at the root cause. The problem people have with women in tech doesn’t start at tech companies—it starts in third grade when little girls are told that math and science is hard. It starts when assertive little girls are told they’re being bossy but assertive boys are told they’re being leaders.

We have to stop this rhetoric and start encouraging all kids to pursue STEM careers—and it’s so important for them to learn these disciplines at an early age. But our education system is falling behind. If we want to create tomorrow’s tech leaders, it needs to get up to speed immediately. Fortunately, there are resources that are addressing this challenge. The Goldilocks Coding project, to give one example, is a unique method that uses the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” to engage students in different stages of the technological problem-solving process. Students can design structures for Goldilocks to build to replace items that she broke, and work through a coding project that guides her path to reach the bears’ home. Resources like this need to be available to all kids very early on in their schooling to have the greatest impact.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

Put simply? So much more than what’s being done currently. Companies need to give women a voice and support it. Really listen when they speak up or ask for something, and encourage them to go after what they want aggressively. If you’re a woman working for a company that doesn’t offer that kind of support, find one that does. You’re not different from men in tech—you’re just as smart and capable, and there are companies that want your perspective in their conversations. On the flip side, companies need to take a deep look at their organisations. How many technical workers or leadership roles are filled by women, and what can they do to increase those numbers? At O’Reilly, we’re constantly looking for ways to foster the next generation of talent. I’d advise all businesses to dedicate the time and resources to do the same. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary and it’s the right thing to do.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?  

Waving a magic wand to fix the face of technology would be nice, but it’s going to take dedication and hard work to change an industry bias that has persisted for years. To accelerate changes that need to be made, I’d encourage all organisations to first acknowledge the problem, then address it head-on—starting with supporting elementary school education and continuing all the way up to leading global technology companies. Offer more resources, access to learning, and mentorship to help women climb the ladder and break through glass ceilings. Arm them with the skills they need to succeed, and celebrate lifelong learning and curiosity. Make a firm commitment—backed by numbers—of how you plan to increase the representation of women and people from other underrepresented groups in your company. We all have so much to gain from a more diverse technology industry. Now we just have to work together to make it happen.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Of course I’d have to say O’Reilly offers a great selection of videos, books, tutorials, live online training courses, virtual events, interactive learning scenarios, and certification programs to help tech professionals build new skills and reskill. This goes beyond providing the tools and learning materials on a subject; we’re actually helping businesses and individuals understand why certain trends or technologies are important and how they’ll shape our work and personal lives. We’ve dubbed this the “O’Reilly Radar,” and it’s built into the DNA of our entire organisation. We provide a learning environment that helps people put this technology-driven world into context and sheds some light on what’s possible to give them a more focused outlook for the future. Most importantly, we’ve made a commitment to increase the diversity of our course leaders and speakers to 40% this year, so learners from marginalized groups—like women—can see themselves represented in positions of leadership in the tech industry and elsewhere.

Regardless of where you go for your learning resources, I encourage women to be voracious learners, not just of tech but of our world.

I’d encourage women interested in O’Reilly to explore our new diversity and inclusion scholarship, which will award 500 recipients with a free membership to our learning platform for one year. Applications are being accepted now through May 15. You can learn more here:

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here