April 21, 2020
Alumni Spotlight: Cate Yu
By Bill Brink
While Cate Yu attended Carnegie Mellon, she worked for CMU Solutions, a pro bono student consulting group that helped local companies and organizations while providing students with real-world experience. As President and Project Lead her senior year, Yu broadened the group’s background by bringing in Creative Writing and Mechanical Engineering majors, driving CMU Solutions’ expansion from purely business consulting to a more diverse organization.
“There was a symbiotic relationship between CMU Solutions and the Pittsburgh community,” Yu said. “It was important to use the skills we learned on campus to support the public.”
This is where, she said, the seed for her career as a recruiter was planted. Yu, who earned a BS in International Relations and Politics and an additional major in French and Francophone Studies in 2013, now works as an executive AI recruiter for Amazon’s Market Intelligence team. Her career as a recruiter for two of the world’s biggest and most influential companies taught her the value of adaptability and a wide range of experience.
“Having exposure to broad majors and programs at Carnegie Mellon helped me with that,” Yu said.
Yu chose Carnegie Mellon because of its interdisciplinary nature. She has many interests, and she liked CMU’s combination of technical programs, humanities, fine arts, and business. She discovered an affinity for international relations over time.
“I wanted exposure to different fields, and international relations incorporated economics, policy analysis, and statistics,” she said. “But my favorite component was world culture and languages.”
Yu spent a semester attending Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3 in France, living with a host family while studying comparative literature and Renaissance art. She was also an awardee of the Fulbright Wales Summer Institute, where she explored the country’s heritage, history, and culture at three Welsh universities. Her expansive interests further manifested themselves in her senior honors thesis, which was titled “The Creative Genius as “Failure”: The Legacy of Federico Fellini in Woody Allen.”
“I always loved film, from the popular movies of my youth to more cerebral foreign films of my college years,” Yu said. “I was fascinated by how art recycles itself from low-brow to high-brow and back again. If I were to sum up my thesis in a phrase, it would be cultural cross-pollination.”
After graduating, Yu decided to move to San Francisco. She’d never been there; she’d never been west of Texas, but friends were moving there and she wanted a new experience. She started out in the technology industry as a technical recruiter at Medallia, a customer experience management firm. While she was there, Medallia quadrupled in size.
“The pressure to scale was exciting and challenging,” Yu said. “Our teams were constantly growing and you just can’t hire fast enough. Those constraints force you to adapt and be creative.”
After three years at Medallia, Yu joined Facebook as a technical sourcer in the research and development department of Oculus, Facebook’s virtual reality platform. As with Medallia, she arrived during a time of rapid growth: Facebook’s augmented and virtual reality team grew more than twice as large during her tenure.
“We were targeting competitive talent pools, so to be effective, we built a culture of collaboration, deep partnerships with our hiring teams, and strong training programs for new recruiters,” she said. “It was a rewarding experience.”
Eventually, Amazon came calling with an opportunity in their Strategic Recruiting group. Unlike the rest of Amazon’s recruiting departments, the Market Intelligence team is centralized, so the executive candidates Yu recruits receive maximum exposure to all business lines across Amazon. Effective recruiting in this role requires courtship and patience.
“There’s a deeper level of thoughtfulness and creativity that’s needed to engage these prospects,” she said. “The way I approach recruiting is less about fulfilling company needs, and more about matching what people are looking for with what we can offer. When you respect people’s talent and their time, you can build a relationship with them. And when we find mutual alignment, that’s the key.”
Yu currently supports executive-level research recruiting for computational advertising, which she said is the fastest-growing business at Amazon.
The fact that Yu, an International Relations and Politics major, assembled a career in technical recruiting for artificial intelligence illustrates the importance of adaptation.
“My major prepared me for a variety of opportunities, and yet there’s still so much to learn,” she said. “Working in tech these past years, I keep arriving at the cusp of hypergrowth. What this demands is adaptability and a willingness to be stretched. But the rewards are immense professional and personal growth.”