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Meet Vanderbilt Alumni

Chikai Ohazama

When Chikai Ohazama graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Engineering, the world stretched in front of him. Today the world stretches before everyone, thanks to Google Earth and Ohazama, the former biomedical engineering major who helped develop it.

Ohazama, BE ’94, used engineering, geographic information system (GIS) technology, 3-D mapping, and imagery skills to develop an application that would literally enable people to see the world in new ways. That project became Google Earth.

Rather than deeming Google Earth’s success as a dividing point in his life’s timeline, however, the 37-year-old considers it simply a point on a road map. That road map has taken him from studying biomedical engineering to research in 3-D ultrasound visualization to developing Internet technology—and all driven by ideas that interest him.

“I guess the simple answer is that I want to work on stuff I’m excited about,” says Ohazama, product manager for Google Earth.

“Do what you love. Know what excites you, stay true to what you want, and keep your eyes open to opportunities.”

The technology that made Google Earth, originally called Earth Viewer, possible was only just starting to evolve when he began working on its development, Ohazama says. Opportunity came when 3-D technology became widely available on laptop and home computers. “Giving people an experience they had never had before was tempting. And so was the technical challenge.” 

Growing up in Florida, Ohazama came to Vanderbilt because it was one of the few schools where he could earn an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering. “When I was an undergrad, my mindset was that I would be a professor,” he says. “I would do some research, I would get my Ph.D., and then be a professor at a university. I never anticipated I would be working in Silicon Valley.”

Ohazama joined Silicon Graphics in 1998. Two years later, he co-founded Keyhole Inc., where he worked on combining geospatial data and 3-D graphics. When Google acquired Keyhole in 2004, Ohazama was part of the deal. Now as a director of product management, Ohazama leads the revenue generating efforts for Google Maps and Earth, as well as manages the global highresolution imagery database and the systems that organize all the geographic information of the world.

Ohazama continues to work on projects he’s excited about, both at Google Earth and in his personal life. The one-time biomedical engineering student is a musician, as well, with his efforts available on iTunes. He has written for theater and documentary films and produced a couple of albums.

The Internet technology guru is quick to say hard work and persistence always pay off. But if he has any real advice for others who hope to follow his trajectory to success, it’s simply this: “Do what you love. Know what excites you, stay true to what you want, and keep your eyes open to opportunities.”