Q+A with Yuri Cataldo, Innovation Engagement Manager at Autodesk and bottled-water maker


Yuri Cataldo, a ‘04 alumnus of the Theatre and Drama program, has been Innovation Engagement Manager at Autodesk, Inc. since 2017. He attended Juilliard and Yale after graduating from IU.

What do you wish someone would have told you as you prepared to enter the workforce?
If someone else is succeeding in the same industry that you’re failing in, it’s you, not the industry. I graduated into the recession and my art career and left fell apart. My career and opportunities expanded the moment I stopped trying to be like everyone else and follow the traditional path and started to build companies/connections/talk my way into projects.

What piece of advice would you like to share with students currently looking for internships or full-time jobs?
Focus on your network first and the relationships you already have and don’t be afraid to apply for positions even if you feel you’re not qualified. Not all managers are smart but the ones that are looking for talent/potential first and the full list of every qualification second.

Describe your daily tasks and how they support your organization.
My day is never the same. Today I am working with our global legal team on agreements for our 4 innovation centers, running a call with a customer about a potential partnership, giving a tour to a foundation, researching how blockchain will impact the construction sector, and working on an impact scorecard for one of the innovation centers.  Its always something new and interesting every day. Because of my unique background, I have a large set of skills that allows my manager to bring me into lots of interesting projects.

What were your original career goals and major when you first arrived at IU? How did your career goals change over time during your time at IU?
I first started at IU South Bend and wanted to be a journalist. That changed during W131 when I didn’t get along with my professor who kept telling me my writing was too good for someone my age. I switched to theater design and never looked back. It allowed me to take classes all across the college and improve my art/design skills.

What has been your career path?
Complicated and confusing, but what has helped me the most has been my refusal to sit still and look for the perfect opportunity. After IU I went to Juilliard and Yale for design. I spent a year working on Broadway before the economy fell apart. After that, it was all about learning how to use my art skills to help me stand out in any job or opportunity. I have worked as a sign holder for Verizon wireless, a waiter, and cleaned offices at night. I have also started an international award-winning bottled water company that was featured at the Oscars and in over 200 articles.

I have been a set design professor, costume design professor, and Entrepreneur-in-residence director of the Business of Creative Enterprises (its an Emerson College program I built to help artists learn business skills). I consulted with a few tech companies and joined one as the CMO and helped them launch a pair of 3D printed sunglasses that received 6 figures worth of preorders and 7 figures worth of free press. Now I work for a tech company in the construction space and in my spare time work with cryptocurrency companies.

So yeah, it is strange and not a straight line. I spend most of my time getting myself into situations over my head so that I get to learn.

What advice do you have for students exploring different career paths?
Don’t be afraid to keep exploring and trying things you didn’t study in school. Don’t be afraid to take a crap job for a year that will help you set up later for a much better and more exciting job. Think about it a marathon not a sprint.

What is one thing that you wish you had done differently in your first job after graduation?
After graduation I worked for a major movie, then a Broadway show, then a movie producer. I wouldn’t change that because with each new job I was testing to see if I wanted to make that industry my full-time career. I was open and honest about what I actually wanted to do vs the reality of the job so when I didn’t like what I found I moved on.

What surprised you most about the transition from college to full-time work?
I had to get much better at managing my own time and focus. I am still working on that.

Reflecting on your time at IU, what memories come to mind?
I was really focused on improving my art/design skills so most of the time I was in the studio or at home working on designs. (I was a bit of a nerd) I had a few really good friends who would make sure I got out. It would be dinner at a new place around town then to Nicks to sink the biz.

Did you have a favorite class or professor during your time at IU?
Favorite prof: Linda Pisano. She was my advisor and let me design 3 shows during my time at IU. My favorite class was anatomy for the artist. Most of the class was learning every bone and muscle in the human body to better understand how to draw it.

By Maureen Langley
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