LabKey got its start in 2003, when Professor Martin (Marty) McIntosh started hunting for talent to build tools to manage a growing deluge of proteomics data at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Officially, Marty asked his friend Mark Igra to help him edit a job description. Unofficially, he was fishing.
Mark was intrigued. In the ’80s and ’90s, Mark had been a Program Manager for Microsoft Office Excel, the Swiss Army knife of bioinformatics, and co-author of the widely used EndNote reference tool. He asked about sharing the job with his friend Matthew Bellew, a lead developer of the first versions of Microsoft Access and SQL Server.
Mark and Matt were sold after Marty brought in his recruiting ace – Lee Hartwell, Ph.D. and Nobel Prize winner in medicine, whose passion for early detection of cancer helped shape Fred Hutch’s mission.
Within a week or so, their friend Adam Rauch had joined them in the development effort. Adam was paid exclusively with the princely treasure of a parking pass. Adam had designed the first two versions of Microsoft Visual Basic.
Starting in October 2003, these three friends worked in an empty, “interstitial” (partial) floor of the C building at the Fred Hutch. Their primary sight of the outside world was the weekly appearance of a yoga class in the floor’s conference room. The future home of LabKey Software (the Arnold building at the Fred Hutch) was not yet built. They quickly began developing the core of LabKey Server, initially called CPAS (the Computational Proteomics Analysis System).
Don Listwin of the Canary Foundation has described scientific open source software as having “the half life of a graduate student.” Mark, Matt, Adam and Marty had a vision for robust, open source software that would break this mold. It would be useful to scientists beyond Marty’s lab, beyond the lifespan of any single project. It would be maintained and improved by professional engineers, not graduate students alone.
Soon other scientists noticed how handy Marty’s team (and their software) could be. Projects beyond proteomics appeared. More projects arrived than the three-person team could handle. Old friends George Snelling, Peter Hussey and Brendan MacLean joined the team in early 2005. The founding six LabKey Software partners had worked together since joining Microsoft in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Most had founded a software company together (Westside) and sold it to BEA (now Oracle).
As the team grew beyond the McIntosh Lab, Fred Hutch and the LabKey Software team agreed to spin out a small company devoted to building software for scientists. In January 2005, LabKey Software came to be. The company is partly owned by the Fred Hutch. In August 2013, the team moved just a few blocks south of Fred Hutch after growing in-house for 8 years.
Today, the LabKey team has software development experience that spans decades and major companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Oracle. Many have worked together since 1989. Together, they have been granted numerous patents, and a multitude of peer-reviewed scientific papers.