How the liberal arts prepared YouTube VP Jennifer Flannery O’Connor ’03 for a dynamic, adaptable career

Author: Jon Hendricks

When Jennifer Flannery O'Connor ’03, vice president of product management for trust and safety at YouTube, is hiring for a position, she looks for candidates who can analyze, listen, and adapt.

“I think people from a liberal arts background spend a lot of time thinking and are often very critical thinkers and listeners,” she said. “It is less often about specific experience in a particular domain and much more, ‘Can you solve new problems?’”

As a College of Arts & Letters alumna, O’Connor knows firsthand how a liberal arts education prepares students to adapt and thrive as the world evolves.

“When I was at Notre Dame, I didn't even have a cell phone — and now I spend all my time thinking about how people operate on the internet,” she said.

O’Connor opted to major in economics because she thought the material would be applicable in many careers. She was right.

Before joining YouTube, O’Connor worked as a high school math teacher, investment banking analyst, and chief of staff for the display and video ad division at Google.

Her roles, she said, have tended to evolve along with her interests.

“This is definitely not the kind of work I saw myself doing,” O’Connor said. “I feel like my career has mostly been looking ahead a couple years and trying to work on a problem that I thought was interesting. I think what I enjoy most about it is, it feels really meaningful.”

In her role now, technology hurdles she often addresses are less about how to solve a difficult engineering problem and more about philosophical, ethical, user, and product issues.

“I have two kids of my own, so making sure that the internet, which is where people spend a lot of time, is safe for them is very important to me, personally,” she said. “I also like that the kinds of issues that I work on don't have black-and-white answers, so I like challenging and difficult problems.”