Where the Future Is
Alumna Jacquelle Amankonah is a product manager at YouTube and is driving the vision and execution of products that better connect video creators and their fans. Photo by Dan Clark with Weinberg-Clark Photography.

Where the Future Is

With unwavering commitment and a background in philosophy, law, music and business, Jacquelle Amankonah has achieved her ultimate career goal.
Michelle Boston

When it comes to her career, Jacquelle Amankonah has been known to go above and beyond. The first thing she does when she wakes up is check her work email before getting out of bed.

“I’m guilty of working on a 24/7 clock,” she admits with a laugh. “Even though it’s such a terrible habit, if you have that burning desire and passion, why not send an email and get things done? It’s a great indicator that you’re doing something that really drives you.”

Amankonah’s passion and determination are what drive her career as a global program manager at YouTube. That same laser focus helped propel her to a professional life that she first envisioned for herself as a freshman in college.

She has always been ahead of the curve. Amankonah began college at age 16, having graduated early from high school. She was intent on pursuing a business career in the entertainment industry.

As an undergraduate, Amankonah was accepted into USC’s highly selective Business Cinematic Arts Program, offered jointly through the USC Marshall School of Business and the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she focused on entrepreneurship and the music industry. Amankonah decided to continue her education at USC by pursuing a progressive master’s degree in philosophy and law at USC Dornsife, two disciplines she knew would serve her well.

“When you’re in business, you’re faced with a number of decisions that call for you to break down a problem, look at it clearly, and then derive a logical conclusion,” she said. “That’s what philosophy provides you with the ability to do, and I use that lens now when I’m faced with a problem or a decision.”

As a student, Amankonah plunged into professional experiences that rounded out what she was learning in the classroom. She interned for Universal Music Group, a music label, and later worked with an entrepreneur helping to form a number of startups including a digital music label.

“That helped me understand how to go from an idea through execution,” she explained.

After earning her master’s degree in 2012, she began working for BET Networks in the mobile technologies department to build applications for music fans. During her 2½ years there, she helped to launch five different mobile apps that focused on celebrities and music.

“This was a time when mobile was the new thing that people were experimenting with, and I completely immersed myself in that world,” Amankonah said.

However, she realized that while she enjoyed working in the television industry, she really wanted to be part of a company on the cutting edge of technology.

“I said if I could work anywhere where the future is, there’s this one online video site called YouTube that I believe is the future.”

Amankonah applied for a job with the company and told herself she would consider changing jobs only if she could work for YouTube. She was invited to interview with Google, which owns YouTube, and, after an intense interview process, was hired. She was elated.

Amankonah started by working with the team that provides support to video creators. Her critical thinking skills were an asset.

“This is where the strategic thinking came in — we had to think of ways to proactively offer help to millions of users at scale including a help center of topics to address common issues and tutorials.”

After a year, she transitioned to the development side of operations at YouTube, where she created the strategic plan to help popular video creators continue to grow their success. That included rethinking how YouTube communicated with those creators, formulating best practices for starting a YouTube channel and finding ways to showcase successful YouTubers.

But during the process, Amankonah realized she missed the product development side of technology that she had been involved in at BET and with her work at startups.

“I missed starting from scratch with an idea, coming up with solutions for customers and seeing those products through their launch,” she said.

So she made what’s considered a big career jump at YouTube, moving from business to product at the company. She began as global program manager, overseeing the rollout of new products for the YouTube platform. She has since become a product manager and is now driving the vision and execution of YouTube products that better connect video creators and their fans.

Amankonah also heads up YouTube’s Creator Love program, in which YouTube’s staff collaborates with aspiring and top YouTube video creators all over the world. Her travel has taken her to Zurich, Colombia, London and many places in between. She and her staff learn how best to meet the needs and desires of these YouTube stars, and take that information back to the office so they can take action.

“It’s really interesting working in a job with a level of responsibility where you’re impacting so many lives,” she said. “The decisions that I make in the office can affect millions of people. It’s all on your shoulders. You want to make sure you’re making the right moves.”

That large-scale influence is also what drives Amankonah. “The scope of responsibility and the level of impact makes this job extremely enlightening and that’s what I love about it,” she said.

For students who are working toward their dream career, Amankonah offered this piece of advice: Plan out your route to the career that you want and build relationships with people who currently work in that field.

“Break down the specific steps you need to follow your path,” she said. “Don’t sit on an amazing dream you have because you think it’s unachievable.”

Plus, she added, as a student you have a great excuse to reach out to people in the profession you’re aiming for to request an informational interview. “Pick their brains and find out how they got to where they are. That’s a great way to start if you’re not sure where to begin.”

Read more stories from USC Dornsife Magazine’s Spring/Summer 2017 issue >>