Interdisciplinary · Issue no. 1
Mining for insights at the intersection of technology, product, cultural identity, human behavior, design, and anything else that sparks my curiosity.
Welcome to my newsletter! In this inaugural issue, I’ll cover who I am, what this newsletter is about, and why I’m writing.
Who is Inga Chen?
That’s a tough question to answer. I’m more than my day job, my side projects, and my cultural identity. I hope through this newsletter you’ll get to know me beyond these labels: I’m Taiwanese American and live in Manhattan. I’m originally from the Bay Area and have lived all over it from Fremont to Berkeley and San Francisco. My parents were both engineers and Sand Hill Road was just another highway exit when I was growing up.
By day, I’m a senior product manager at Spotify, leading the personalization and ranking of our homepage. For my past seven years in product, I’ve worked across industries but circled around a similar product problem: delivering personalized experiences that make people feel understood, using data and machine learning under the hood.
By night, I work on side projects like this newsletter, a mobile app called Plant Parenthood, and a podcast on product lessons from Formula 1 racing. I also co-lead Women in Product NYC, a community of over 2,500 product managers. I’m an avid tea drinker with over twenty pounds of tea at home, and spend an inordinate amount of time curating Pinterest boards for every room in my dream home (which includes a tea room). I count myself a lifelong learner; recently, I’ve been an On Deck Fellow for both Founders and Writers and have taken classes on Japanese ceramics, squash, and pointe ballet from former American Ballet Theatre dancers.
What is Interdisciplinary?
In this newsletter, I'll be sharing an amalgamation of insights and unpopular opinions I have on a broad range of topics, such as:
Product management, especially personalization, leading teams, and product applications of machine learning
Design, especially of physical things, spaces, and cities
Psychology and human behavior, such as our relationship with time, the artist vs writer brain, and my thoughts on new consumer products like Clubhouse and the future of audio
Mental models and life systems, such as how I read people’s biases and my system for making key life decisions
Most importantly, the magic will come from the cross-pollination of these topics. Interdisciplinary’s main thesis is: a worldview that combines insights from many disciplines helps us be better humans and build better products.
I've wanted to write a newsletter for a long time.
My affection for reading and writing newsletters started in childhood. The very first newsletter I wrote and shared with any regularity was in fifth grade. Our fifth grade class of 25 students were at war with each other. I was the leader of one of the factions. We assembled an army and duked it out on the playground during recess, enforcing rules like the word "it" was forbidden. We'd trade people to assemble the strongest army, similar to how the NBA trades players. Is there a war if no one reports it? I started a newsletter to capture the latest war developments and who was winning. I made the masthead in Word Art, printed it out weekly, and had my people distribute the issues far and wide.
In high school, I was News Editor for the Smoke Signal, our official high school newspaper. I loved covering the news around town and relished in being able to design and commission pieces for the front page. A major point of contention was which articles made it above the fold. I may have miffed a few editors once or twice.
Fifteen years later, I do a similar thing at Spotify. While a few thousand people saw the front page of the Smoke Signal, over 345 million people around the world get their personalized music and podcast recommendations from their Spotify homepage. We still have intense debates about what goes above the fold.
Despite this “experience” in writing — from newsletters throughout my academic career to product strategy docs today — I struggled in sending this very first issue. There wasn't a niche I wanted to commit to writing every week. My interests in product management and personalization are seemingly unrelated to my interests in tea, Asian American identity and the design of homes and cities. I want to write about all of these topics and more. My best inspiration comes from the most unexpected muses.
David Epstein's Range gave me comfort: "The challenge we all face is how to maintain the benefits of breadth, diverse experience, interdisciplinary thinking, and delayed concentration in a world that increasingly incentivizes, even demands, hyperspecialization.” The voice that told me I needed to choose a hyper-specific niche was shaped from these forces.
One of my majors in college was literally called Interdisciplinary Studies, and it enabled me to take courses across departments and assemble my own curriculum. My second major was similarly a mouthful: Environmental Economics and Policy. Economics felt too theoretical by itself. I wanted to learn how it applied to a field and interacted with policy.
Today, product management is arguably one of the most interdisciplinary roles in a tech company. We work with engineering, design, data science, user research, legal, business development, finance, content and other product teams to build products for people.
Say hello to my newsletter: Interdisciplinary. I'm hoping my diverse range of topics keeps this newsletter interesting, and I'm aiming to share as often as I have something interesting to share. This newsletter will be an intimate look into my curious, flawed, and ever evolving mind.
My intent for this year is to be bold, and just start on things I'm afraid of.
I hope you'll join me.