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Meet Chen Yao: The Fast Interview

Chen Yao, engineering manager at Fast

Name: Chen Yao

Role: Engineering Manager

Team: Recommendations Team

What do you do at Fast?

I’m the Engineering Manager for the Recommendations Team. I support a group of superstar engineers building world-class recommendations to make it easier for people to discover and buy products online.

Which of our Fast values resonate with you most?

Focus on people. Life is not easy for many people every day. If I can contribute to make their lives easier and better, even just a tiny bit, I would be honored. 

What led you to engineering?

I was researching how to apply machine learning to predict dairy cattles’ future feed efficiency my senior year of college (my major was quantitative genetics). I was interested in getting more experience in using machine learning to solve real-world problems, which led me to the tech industry. I ended up getting a Master of Science in machine learning, then my PhD.

Where were you before Fast?

Engineering Lead at Facebook, for five years.

Why did you say yes to Fast?

Fast is solving a problem I’m passionate about. I’m always worried about the safety of my personal and financial information while shopping online, and can never remember all the passwords. A world with one-click checkout and identity that follows you everywhere, rather than being stored in hundreds of places, attracted me immediately. 

Where did you grow up, and what were you like as a kid?

Liaoyang, a small city in Northeast China. I had many different pets growing up: cats, rabbits, fish, ducklings, chicken, snails, and more. The best memories were staying with my grandparents in the countryside, working on the vegetable garden and watching the piglets from the neighbors next door. A sense of happiness and kindness was instilled in me very young.

What’s the last great book you read or podcast you listened to?

On Animals, by Susan Orlean. I’ve been focusing on work- and career-related books, so this book was refreshing: short stories around different animals with some brief history. For example, many tigers were once kept as pets. My heart sank when I read her family’s farm closed when COVID hit. We each have many chapters in life, and sometimes we just have to say goodbye and move on. I’m glad I grabbed that book. 

Favorite thing about being an engineer that isn’t problem solving?

Having the knowledge that could explain to my friends and family about the magic behind the blackbox in artificial intelligence and machine learning –– like how tech companies “know” which ads to show you, which can sound cool – or terrifying.

If you weren’t an engineer, what would you be?

A Quantitative Geneticist for dairy cattle breeding. I’ve spent almost 10 years studying animal science and dairy cattle genetics. Agriculture is being revolutionized by new technology. I’d like to participate in this area of work one day.

What’s a habit you’d like to start?

Getting at least a 30-minute workout every day and building strength. Fortunately, Phil (McDougal, Fast’s director of wellness) is here with kettlebell and other classes to keep us fit.

The best career advice you received?

The longer you can keep your passion, the more successful you will become. 

One thing about you that has been and will always be true?

I’m dedicated to solving problems.

What do you know now that you would tell your past self?

The pace of life has its own beauty. There’s no need to always hurry.

Where can we follow you?

LinkedIn

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