Number One in the World, Second to None

Javad Ashjaee (1949-2020)

Javad Ashjaee on the veranda of his penthouse in Moscow.

It was at the 2000 ACSM Conference in Little Rock that I first met Javad Ashjaee in person. During that visit and many more he shared many details of his life that I have written about in this magazine. From escaping the oppression of the mullahs following the Iranian Revolution in 1979 to ultimately creating GNSS equipment and techniques that have benefitted surveyors and the precise measurement industry around the globe, Javad had a brilliant and storied career.

As is often the case with survey software written outside the Unites States, Javad’s early software wasn’t tailored for the US market. Beginning in 2008 Texas surveyor Shawn Billings began writing various product reviews for American Surveyor. Javad approached me about the possibility of Shawn helping him with the Javad software. Much as I hated to lose Shawn as a reviewer, I believed it was a good fit. Shawn and Javad’s talented software team in Moscow achieved that goal.

When the news of Javad’s passing came we reached out to Shawn and asked if he would share some thoughts with our readers:

• • •

“We’re still in shock, he wrote. There is a lot I could say, but it’s hard to figure out what the most important thing is, or the best memory or story. There were quite a few. I first met him in June of 2013 in San Jose. I never expected it to be the foundation of such a meaningful relationship, but in October of that year my wife and I went to Moscow to meet his team. We sat at a long boardroom table and spent five days laying out the initial strategy for the Triumph LS software. (Javad was an awesome host and sent my wife all over Moscow while I “worked”.) He always had an unwavering confidence that he could bring something better to the market than what existed, so he insisted he develop his own software instead of importing software from a third party.

“I kept telling my wife that this consulting arrangement would not last forever, but I continued testing and making recommendations and he and his team were always so good to hear me out even if on occasion they would reject or table my advice. Javad added more surveyors to the team and we’ve slowly moved from consulting, to support, to sales, still doing a bit of all of it but with emphasis changing somewhat along the way. We had almost weekly conference calls with the team in Moscow to discuss product development. Javad loved debate. He would often throw out a piece of red meat just to have something to argue, always with a sly grin.

“The time in Moscow was a part of an ongoing transformation for me. I love America. It’s the greatest country in the world, but I have met people from all over the planet and visited several countries. You know, most people want to live and raise their families and see the world become a little better than they found it. There are some exceptions, but people are generally good. As a youngster we would have drills for nuclear attacks. The USSR was a villain. I have no love for communism still, but the people of Russia are great and spending time there sitting with them in a boardroom talking about surveying, one of my favorite subjects in the world, was surreal. This was part of Javad’s vision when he approached the Russians in the late 1980s to develop a receiver that would track GPS and GLONASS—it was not just a technological achievement but a humanitarian one as well. That vision continues to ripple today. I have friends I speak with in Russia routinely.

“On top of selling his equipment, I use it every day, too. Almost every button is a story to me. Each button represents a conversation, sometimes a debate (on rare occasion a heated debate), and each button represents people/a person in need of some feature or application and another who responded to that need and wrote some lines of code to meet it. Almost every application has a face, and that face has a name, and a family, and hobbies. It’s been quite an experience. Javad and I spent time at his home in his backyard in San Jose on a cool fall day and he explained how a choke ring antenna works. He was ever the professor. (‘How did I get here?’ I kept thinking).

“Javad taught me a lot, and not only about GPS theory, but about being bold and taking risks. He was a great mentor to me. I’m humbled, so very humbled, that he saw something in me worth listening to, a dirt surveyor with three semesters of junior college. But I can say that Javad loved surveyors. I don’t know why but he did. He chose to make his career about bringing innovation to our profession and I can honestly say that profit was never his chief priority. It was, in his words, about having fun and making great products. He never took a vacation, because to him his work with his team was always a vacation.”

• • •

Mark Silver, the owner of iGage in Salt Lake City, also shared his recollections:

“In July 2013 I was at the office working late in the evening and my phone rang. The caller identified himself as Javad Ashjaee and asked if we could talk about building a new kind of data collector for GNSS use.

“Honestly at first, I was skeptical that it really was Dr. Ashjaee. But I had heard him speak online about the LightSquared issue and recognized his distinctive voice. I could not believe that I was speaking with him, as I was genuinely intrigued by him, his amazing reputation, and the 8-page advertisements that he ran in industry magazines.

“Over the following years, I was blessed to work for Dr. J on his dream receiver with integrated data collection: the LS. We would argue about marketing, distribution, performance, testing, motivation and really just about everything. We settled into me being the masters-seeking student and he the major professor.

“Sitting on the veranda behind his office, sneaking expensive cigars, drinking sodas and arguing about GNSS performance was my joy. Dr. J had a keen sense of humor and was a wonderful storyteller. More than anyone I have ever known Dr. J had stories to tell. Not only did he know everything about the GNSS industry from a technical perspective, but he was personally at the table for every turn and innovation.

“Meeting at INTERGEO we would spend hours catching up on industry gossip and he would always share the details of his new innovations. And they were always true, groundbreaking innovations so far advanced that I rarely understood them, but I always knew that they were important and would eventually make sense to me. Dr. J really was that far ahead of everyone else. And since he completely controlled every aspect of his company, he was free to innovate without restrictions.

“As you read stories about Dr. J, please know that Javad Ashjaee was the real deal. He was brilliant, he loved his work, he had the persistence to complete even the most complicated of projects. He was a great educator, had a great sense of humor, and was the best friend anyone could ever have. He was uniquely generous, and he loved all the people in his many circles.

I am absolutely heartbroken that Dr. J is gone. Totally, completely, heartbroken. Godspeed Dr. J.”

• • •

Looking back, I marveled at the fact that Javad—who could have chosen any electronic field— chose to focus on not only GNSS, but precise GNSS at that. Much of the technology surveyors take for granted today began with Javad. His legacy now carries on through the expertise and direction of Nedda Ashjaee, Javad’s oldest daughter, who has brilliantly managed the corporate side of the company for decades. With the talented team Javad assembled and future developments already underway, JAVAD Technologies is well-positioned for what lies ahead.

Stay tuned!

Previous articles by the author about Javad Ashjaee can be found at:
Number One in the World, Second to None, 2001 https://bit.ly/2H2CCRN
JAVAD GNSS User Conference, 2009 https://bit.ly/3ixmNAf
For additional reading, including product reviews, simply search for Javad at https://amerisurv.com

About the Author

Marc Cheves, PS

Marc Cheves is editor emeritus of the magazine. He has been a surveyor since 1963 and is licensed in five states. Since 1995 he has been a surveying magazine editor.