B.S. Computer Science, ’09
Co-founder, Catapult Consulting
Fun fact: Plays jazz trumpet and fixes old cars
The fastest way to clue you in to Jazon Burnell is to tell the story his business partner, Aaron Morse, shares about him–from before they were business partners.
Aaron Morse has a deep techie background that landed him a speaking invite to a gathering of Anchorage software engineers back in early 2008, just as Apple was about to release its software development kit (SDK) to third-party developers, initiating the happy mobile app tsunami we all enjoy.
Morse asked the audience, “How many of you were accepted (by Apple) as mobile developers?” Many had applied, but Morse was the only one in the room who’d been accepted. Then one young man raised his hand and said he’d managed to create an iPhone app without the SDK. That young man was Jazon Burnell, a UAA computer science student.
What? Morse was stunned. A story he likes to tell puts Burnell’s achievement into perspective.
“Do you know what that’s like? That’s like deciding you want to read Plato’s “Republic,” but the only copy you can find is in ancient Greek. So … you take three months to learn ancient Greek, and then you read Plato.”
Any developer who could muscle his way through app development without the SDK was worth knowing. “See me after the talk,” Morse told Burnell. He knew right away this was one young developer he wanted to stay connected to. At the time, Jazon was a senior at UAA, about to finish his degree in four years.
Birth of a tech startup
Within months, Morse and his wife, Dawn–plus newly minted college grad Jazon–founded Catapult Computing, iOS and Android software developers specializing in game design, coding and consultation. All three are “managing members,” equals at the top of a workforce of 15 located globally and even within the Apple campus.
At first, “We wrote code at Kaladi’s,” Morse laughs. Today, they are happy beneficiaries of real office space, courtesy of a manufacturing incubator in South Anchorage that made room for them.
Tom Myers, formerly a business center director at UAA and now deputy director for Alaska Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Inc. explained that his agency nurtures startups with six months of free office space, eventually graduating to full rent after about a year–a nice break for fledgling businesses made possible through state, federal, grant and client support.
That’s where Jazon, 26, met us at the door in jeans and a black T-shirt with white letters that read, “There’s no place like 127.0.0.1″ (Nod to “E.T.” Those numbers are the IP or “home” address for any computer.).
“Call me when you get here and I’ll come up front to meet you,” he’d offered. That’s because the building is a maze of offices and cubicles in a plain brown building squirreled off to the side of Old Seward Highway and Dowling Road.
This may seem like humble beginnings, but if you are a three-and-a-half year-old tech company surviving in Anchorage, Alaska, far from the nurturing environment of Silicon Valley, you’re happy.
But Jazon Burnell and his team are more than happy. They are busy—creating mobile apps and selling them. Their website says it simply and with pride:
“We build apps. Awesomely!”
Just below that slogan comes hard evidence, images from their successful creations. On top is “Trenches II,” released by Electronic Arts, a global gaming publisher, just before Christmas. Jazon was key in this success, creating the game using art and sound from a concept designer. It displays a four-and-a-half star rating on the App Store and it’s yours for $1.99. Jazon’s especially proud of the side-scrolling view and how well a player can control units in the game. You can check out a trailer tease on YouTube.
Catapult Consulting was also behind The Alaska App, a “be-all and end-all guide to everything Alaska” that they worked on with The Alaska Channel. They’ve done work for non-profits, including a free app for RurAL Cap that takes readers through a self-guided tour of Alaska communities and the challenges they face.
Jazon (Jay-zun) didn’t try to jazz up Jason; his real name is Jazon-Dovid Burnell. His father was an electrician and his mom transports sailboats Outside. After navigating Clark Middle School and Bartlett High School, he chose UAA for financial reasons. He entered undecided about what he wanted to study, but after one entry-level computer science class, he was hooked.
While at UAA, he says he enjoyed working two years as a resident advisor for the East Hall Honors community. He also benefited from a student internship with the State of Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources—more for what he realized about himself than the actual work. At DNR, he was converting a mainframe interface to the web for easier access. That was fine. But the big lesson came from the working environment. After the internship, he knew he wanted to work for himself; he recognized that he had entrepreneurial spirit.
Kenrick Mock, a computer science professor and Jazon’s UAA advisor, remembers him as “natural at computer programming” and “a great student.”
Mock is especially pleased to see a UAA computer science graduate make it in game programming. Many students come to CS with that plan, he said, but few pursue it.
“We’re thinking of making a class centered around mobile development, Mock said with a grin, “so Jazon might have some more competition in the future.”‘
Listen up UAA students. Catapult Computing is already using one student intern from UAA, and is in the market for several more. “They don’t have to be programmers,” Jazon said. “We need lots of people – including marketers. But they have to be passionate about what they do.”
Hot Pockets and bubbly drinks
So there you have it, success at 26, with a six-figure income and the mobile app world as his oyster.
Jazon loves his working life. He comes in about noon and works until about 7 every night. He’s crazy about being his own boss.
The future? He’d love to get into programming games for consoles like the Xbox–that’s another whole level. If he can find the time, he’d love to go back to school, maybe for a higher degree in math, which he took a minor in as an undergrad.
Then there’s the jazz trumpet he excelled at in high school and wants to pick back up. And snow-machining, and fixing up old cars. But in front of all those aspirations is an ambitious drive to be excellent.
Morse says you rarely see such powerful multi-facets in one person.
“He’s got great ideas. He has the ability and skills to execute. And most importantly, he has the discipline to do it.”
You’ll hear that drive in Jazon’s personal mission statement for Catapult Computing: “I want this company to be extraordinary.”
So life is ticking along very nicely for this UAA grad. Myers, of the incubator agency, says it has been fun having Catapult Consulting as a resident startup. For one thing, everyone loves having techies around to solve problems.
But they are also fun.
“You know what you hear about coders,” sitting glued to their screens, working away, Myers says. “That’s them. Hours on end. Eating their Hot Pockets and drinking their bubbly drinks.”
“Sometimes, the stereotype is true.”