On Wednesday, Jan. 9, almost four decades after launching his eponymous software firm, Jay Last was memorialized at United Methodist Church in his neighborhood of South Lake Union in Seattle. He was 92.
The software company, most of whose 14 staffers were volunteers, is a Washington Post Company publication.
Early in his work, Last, one of the original technologists of computerized measurement, introduced it to the use of the phrase “The Silicon Valley” in the 1990s. In its early days, one of his well-known models was calling it “a corner of the boondocks.”
The community of software developers has been collectively mourning Last’s passing this week. Last spoke to the Washington Post in October of last year. Here’s some of what he said:
“Here’s the thing about Silicon Valley,” he said. “Some of us end up being near the front in defining that, I think. What we’re trying to do is engineer a model out of something. So, we have people with the right math skills, and the right skills to learn how to build real-world applications. By building real-world applications, our goal is to make software products better.”
For a period in the 1960s, Last worked at Microsoft. He joined the company in 1966, taking a position as a contract systems analyst. When Microsoft acquired Albuquerque-based Wayham Technologies in 1977, he was hired as Wayham’s founder, Steve Anderson. Anderson and Last had met a decade earlier at Harvard Business School’s first class reunion. Anderson had started software consulting firm, while Last had been director of math and science programs at the school’s business school. Last noted at the time:
“They say computer literacy has a disproportionate effect on educational achievement. I certainly agree with that. I also think it has had an equally disproportionate effect on the earnings of the top 1 percent. I don’t want to make a moral judgment on that. As is the case with any economic policy, it’s complex.”
The company, designed around retail-driven software and services, would grow dramatically during the early 80s and in the 1990s. Jay Last would not be fully aware of its success. Anderson, who died in 2003, oversaw final stages of its growth and eventual inflection point, spending much of the 1990s helping thousands of companies with app development.
Anderson’s widow, Adele Anderson, also spoke to the Washington Post about Last’s contribution: