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Alumnus Kevin Schaaf Follows Career Passions from Cornfields to Google Chrome

Monday, March 16, 2015
Kevin Schaaf Profile

Following His Heart: Kevin Schaaf, a 2001 computer engineering graduate, has had an interesting early career path, with destinations in Japan, Singapore, and across America. He is now working as part of Google's Chrome development team. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

Kevin Schaaf likes saying he grew up in the "middle of cornfields" in central Indiana, near the small town of Martinsville. It was there that he planted dreams that would send him around the world.

An early dream was to learn Japanese, which he began studying at Indian Creek High School. A hot summer living in southern Japan honed his skills, which were dramatically improved through further instruction at Rose-Hulman. Then, one day while acting as a guide for Japanese students visiting the campus, the young man from Morgan County suddenly realized he could handle basic Japanese without concentrating on every word.

"That was like a dopamine rush," he recalls.

Next, Schaaf set his sights on earning a rare internship in Japan. He accomplished that goal within the Home Computing Network, a small company based in Tokyo. He was the first non-Japanese person to work for the business, and the software development skills were valuable to the company-thanks to his broad Rose-Hulman education.

"They thought it was really cool they could make their own software," he says.

Returning to Rose-Hulman to complete his studies in computer engineering, Schaaf's life reached another landmark during a "fateful chat" with a roommate just before graduation in 2001. Schaaf was holding several good job offers, but was disappointed that none of them involved working in Japan. Rather than settle, the roommate urged Schaaf to stick with his career aspirations.

"It was that conversation where my mind changed," Schaaf told students, faculty, and staff members during a recent campus presentation.

The offers were tossed in the trash, and, before long, Bose Corporation, an audio technology company, offered a job that involved frequent trips to Japan to work directly with car makers.

"That was the dream job I was looking for," he says.

Schaaf stayed with Bose for the next eight years, including a three-year stint living in Tokyo, until 2010. During that time, another new dream took root. In 2007, Apple announced the iPhone and Schaaf was suddenly interested in the expanding career possibilities in mobile technology.

"I wanted to get into this mobile revolution," he explains, adding that his Rose-Hulman degree provided the skills needed to design applications, a vital skill in the mobile world.

Not satisfied, however, with simply making apps, Schaaf wanted a bigger role. "I wanted a seat at that table deciding what would be made," he says.

To make that happen, Schaaf enrolled in INSEAD, an international business school, to earn a master's degree in business administration. That degree came in Singapore while working for PayPal. After graduating, he landed jobs at Hewlett-Packard and LG Electronics in Silicon Valley before yet another dream job would emerge, this time as part of Google's Chrome development team.

"This is a dream job," Schaaf says. "I work with incredibly smart people."

Rose-Hulman played a central role in propelling Schaaf from the Hoosier cornfields to interesting work in Japan, Singapore, and California. He urges the institute's future graduates to avoid following the "pragmatic" route in life. Instead, "follow your heart," he says. "The dream will come."