UW Alumnus Jeremy Jaech co-founds Aldus, Visio

Jeremy Jaech
March 1996

I entered the University of Washington in 1973 and spent four years earning a BA in Mathematics. During that time I tried various programs and settled on Mathematics in my junior year after I had decided to apply for the Computer Science graduate program. I had worked on campus for Don Terry, a doctoral candidate in CSE who was running the Atmospheric Sciences computer lab, and he encouraged me to apply to CSE. I looked at the national rankings for the UW program compared to other schools I would consider attending, and saw that CS was considered to have a strong program, so I applied.

I was admitted into the CSE graduate program in 1977 and attended one year of classes, at which time I moved to Richland and took a job at Battelle's Pacific Northwest Laboratories. I continued to take classes through WSU at their satellite campus there. After about 18 months of work and study, I moved back to Seattle, got a job at Boeing, and picked up again in UW CSE. Battelle had decided I was a graphics guy, and I had decided I was not an academician, so I decided to finish my studies by completing a Masters thesis. The thesis was with Alan Shaw and was about solving an interesting but admittedly not particularly troubling problem with rendering photo-realistic scenes by computer. I was awarded my MS in 1980.

Just as I was finishing up at UW, I had an opportunity to move within Boeing to a group doing computer-aided design research and development in anticipation of the 777 program. Loren Carpenter (also a UW CSE graduate, currently with Pixar of which he is a co-founder) was leaving that group to go to LucasFilm, and I got to step into his shoes. They were looking for someone who could do photo-realistic rendering, and Loren had learned of me through the CSE department. He attended my presentation of my thesis, and a few days later his boss started recruiting me. I took the offer and moved over in early 1981. This group was led (technically) by Dave Kasik, who taught me a bunch about architecting complex graphical applications. Clearly, the work I had done for my thesis opened the door at the CAD R&D group and allowed me the opportunity to learn about building complex graphical applications.

In 1983 I left Boeing to go to work for Atex, a maker of computer systems for large newspaper and magazine production. The work at Boeing had prepared me for leading the development of graphical application for advertising design. After about 9 months, Atex closed the facility in which I worked, and I joined with four other people to start Aldus Corporation.

I was at Aldus from 1984 to 1989 and managed the development of all products created there during that time. By 1989 Aldus had grown to about 1000 employees worldwide. A great many of the employees I hired at Aldus were also graduates of the UW CSE department -- people educated in UW CSE contributed greatly to the flow of products out of Aldus.

After leaving Aldus in 1989, I and two others started Visio Corporation in 1990. The company now has about 200 employees worldwide. About 30% of all of Visio's Seattle-based employees are graduates of the University of Washington.

In spite of the fact that I haven't written a line of code professionally since 1986, my education has continued to serve me well. I feel very well grounded in the fundamentals of computer science, and those have not changed in spite of the changes in the tools and technologies that have appeared. I can still sit down with developers and discuss architectural issues without feeling out-of-date. I feel strongly that the head of a technology company must understand the technology the company is based upon, and the UW CSE program has given me the grounding I need.

Visio has a key technology tie-in to UW CSE, as well. When we started the company, we knew we had to move some of the responsibility for "managing" a drawing from the user to the computer. We wanted the drawing to embody various relationships within and between shapes in the drawing. In our search of the relevant literature, we discovered that Alan Borning was an expert in constraint-based drawing, so we hired him as a consultant to help us sort out the right approach to take to constraint management. With Alan's help we chose what the market has decided was the correct approach, in terms of trading off complexity and power. Since this technology is fundamental to our products, this is no small matter.