How a PLS alumna puts her liberal arts background to work, landing jobs at Google and Pinterest

Author: Jack Rooney

Carrie Sweeney 1200
Carrie Sweeney 1200

Carrie Sweeney ’03 has spent much of her career learning on the job in fast-paced, high-tech environments. 

As she has risen through the ranks of companies like Google and Pinterest, Sweeney has drawn on the strong foundation she built as a Program of Liberal Studies major at Notre Dame. 

“Spending those four precious years on campus doing something that you can’t do any other time — shaping your worldview, your ethos by engaging with great texts — that’s just irreplaceable,” Sweeney said. “You can go learn about balance sheets afterward, whether that’s on the job or by getting an MBA. But there’s never going to be a time in life when you can really grapple with foundational ideas as effectively as you can while you’re at Notre Dame.” 

Especially in the ever-changing tech world, Sweeney relies on the core skills she developed in PLS — collaboration, critical reading and thinking, and effective communication. 

“Those are fundamental skills that are required for success in any career, and especially a career in the business and technology world,” she said. “It’s fast-paced. Things are changing a lot, and you’re working with a lot of cross-functional teams. So those critical thinking and communication skills are at the root of everything we do.”

They’re particularly important at a time when issues involving privacy, free speech and misinformation, and corporate responsibility have come to the fore, she said. 

“There are a lot of really interesting philosophical questions right now,” Sweeney said. “And Notre Dame and PLS gave me the tools to engage with hard policy questions like that. I think that in the future in tech, we’re all going to be held to higher standards, and I’m really excited for that.”

“Spending those four precious years on campus doing something that you can’t do any other time — shaping your worldview, your ethos by engaging with great texts — that’s just irreplaceable. You can go learn about balance sheets afterward, whether that’s on the job or by getting an MBA. But there’s never going to be a time in life when you can really grapple with foundational ideas as effectively as you can while you’re at Notre Dame.”

Seeking a broad education

Carrie Sweeney At Nd
Sweeney (left) with her roommate on her first day at Notre Dame

Sweeney entered Notre Dame as an architecture major, but after a year in the program, felt that it wasn’t her calling. So at the beginning of her sophomore year, she switched to PLS.

The curriculum exposed Sweeney to ancient thinkers such as Euclid and Plato, along with more contemporary authors like Virginia Woolf, whose works Sweeney used as the basis for her senior thesis. 

“The sheer variety of the content we covered, as well as the rigor and the pace at which we covered it, was super compelling,” Sweeney said. “I knew I would learn how to read critically and thoughtfully and also just consume a ton of what might be regarded as the world’s best content.”

Building an impactful career

After Notre Dame, Sweeney figured she would pursue some type of post-graduate degree, but first, she wanted to return home to Chicago to work for a year or two. For help navigating the unfamiliar world of corporate recruiting, she turned to the Meruelo Family Center for Career Development

“It’s hard to figure it out on your own — how to navigate that world if you don’t have some very sage advice,” Sweeney said. “For me, having that deep foundational skillset from my liberal arts education, coupled with some real-world practical advice, was the magic mix.”

Sweeney landed at Starcom, a digital advertising agency where she gained extensive business experience working with clients to maximize their advertising dollars.

Starcom also offered a rigorous training program, which included funding for additional coursework. So in her spare time, Sweeney pursued a master of liberal arts at the University of Chicago, where she continued studying Virginia Woolf.

“PLS really triggered a lifelong interest in me in her writing, in the Bloomsbury Group, and in some of the modernist emerging literature of that time,” Sweeney said. “It’s something that’s brought me joy for a long time.”

She returned to the University of Chicago a year later for a full-time MBA program. After graduation, she spent nearly three years in a management consulting job with Bain & Co., before looking for her next opportunity.  

Sweney thought her blend of digital marketing and consulting experience would be a good fit for Google. She joined Google’s sales team in Chicago in 2014 and worked with a variety of large retailers to help them utilize the company’s advertising products. 

“I loved it. It was incredibly fast-paced, and I think my business degree helped me scale the learning curve there,” Sweeney said of her job at Google. “And it was a nice collision of all of my worlds.”

Leading in the business world

After about two years at Google, some of Sweeney’s former colleagues invited her to join the Pinterest office in Chicago, which had fewer than 20 people at the time. 

It was too good of an offer to pass up. 

Four years later, Pinterest has 150 people in its Chicago office, and Sweeney leads a team of 12, managing retail partnerships with some of the biggest chains in the country —  including Target, Kohl’s, and Lowe’s. 

As she navigates the business and tech worlds, Sweeney also helps current students chart their own course. She regularly works with the Arts & Letters Boot Camp, which brings students to Chicago over fall and spring breaks to explore various corporate industries.

It’s her way of giving back to the educational programs that helped shape her personal and professional life.

“Notre Dame gave me this incredibly sound footing to go out into the real world. I left with some of my closest friends to this day, and a really rigorous education,” she said. “I felt very equipped to go figure out life.”

“Notre Dame gave me this incredibly sound footing to go out into the real world. I left with some of my closest friends to this day, and a really rigorous education. I felt very equipped to go figure out life.”

Originally published by Jack Rooney at al.nd.edu on July 21, 2020.