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Andrea Nguyen, Program Manager

May 2020


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Spotify Design Team

To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we're proud to present a special series of In the Spotlight to celebrate API creators and the community. Today's headliner is Andrea Nguyen, Program Manager for the Design Ops team in New York. Put on your headphones, hit play, and read along!

Questions & Answers

Why are you a designer?

Ah, tricked you! I’m actually a Program Manager within the Design Ops team. So, I’m not a designer, but my team and I work to build the Spotify Design community through programs that enhance our Design culture, tools, systems, learnings, and inspiration. 

l have always surrounded myself with Art & Design and received a BFA in Photography, but had little awareness of the Digital or Product Design world until I fell into a job as Studio Manager of the product studio, ustwo. I spent 5 years at ustwo, transitioned to Agile Coaching and Project Management, and continued PMing at Square.

Being both a Studio and Program Manager made me realize how much I valued community, collaboration, diverse perspectives, and human relationships. I just like bringing joy to others. The role of Design Ops was something I had never heard of before, but the more I learned about it, the more I realized it was a perfect intersection of my work experience and passion for people. 

Describe your job at Spotify without using the words "design" or "designer."

My team focuses on creating a global community in support of people who have made and continue to make Spotify the experience it is today.

Show us a picture of your desk, and explain why it looks how it does.

  1. These are my two work views that I zone out to when I’m thinking. The painting is one of my most prized thrift finds. The other is my fire escape where I sometimes take sun-breaks on. There are wisteria vines filling in!

  2. My daily aspirational glass of water.

  3. *sad alert* A picture of my beautiful cat, Ducky, who passed away last month. 

  4. I like to physically write my notes, thoughts, and checklists out. These nice notepads are a bit wasteful, but my work journal has been quarantining at the office!

  5. My cup of restaurant pens (the best note-taking pen) from some of my favorite spots in New York like Estela and Cafe Altro Paradiso.

  6. AirPods for meetings, EarPods for meetings when the AirPods die, and a Bose Bluetooth speaker for music when the meetings are over.

Tell us about a time you beat an intimidating design challenge.

For me, in a Design Ops role, it’s been creating programming for a global team of designers that work across different missions, teams, and even disciplines—when you yourself are not a designer by trade. A few things I’ve learned is that: 

You can’t please everyone. This is not about giving up on trying to please everyone, but it’s about letting go of that idea as a measurement of success. As long as you do your due diligence in trying to capture as many perspectives, opinions, and considerations from your audience, you’ll be setting up a strong foundation for your program and initiative.

To iterate is to grow. Preparation is key, but sometimes things don’t go as planned. As Design Ops, we’re really invested in our community, so when things don’t work out it can be hard to not take it to heart. With COVID-19, we had to transition almost all of our programs to be virtual. Some things haven’t translated as well remotely (try turning an 8-hour in-person workshop into a Zoom meeting! 😬), but we stayed flexible, collected feedback, and iterated on the process. By iterating, you’re putting your learnings into actions and growing your program and your own development.

Empathy is really important. This is a baseline life rule for me. It’s been something I carry with me into work as the biggest consideration I have when planning things that affect other people. Practicing empathy is especially vital during this time! Given the state of the world and the fact that our work life and home lives have merged, I think it’s even more important to be sensitive and understanding of everyone’s personal situation. 

Name three non-designers you feel inspired by when designing.

Writer and activist James Baldwin

To me, his novels are timeless narratives that are so rooted in how things feel that when I’m reading I’m less concerned about how those things came to be. 

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

His minimalist installations and sculptures have a real gentle approach and are seemingly playful (a pile of candy you can take from!), but the concept is heavy and present (the pile of candy represents the weight of his lover who died of AIDS and by taking the candy you are removing him). I love that his works are simply presented, visually accessible, and conceptually rich. 

Restaurants and everyone that works in them

Most everything I love can be linked back to food and the hospitality/service industry. These people are able to create spaces and experiences that are harbors of culture and community while also tending to a basic life necessity. When I walk into a restaurant I love, everything is an inspiration! I miss you, restaurants.

What would your self-portrait look like?

Any final shout-outs or things you'd like to share?

Thanks to my Design Ops teammates who are an amazing group of intelligent, funny, and kind people that always inspire me to do better and work smarter. 

Shout out to my old Spotify deskmates in Sky Basement :-) !!

And for really yummy Vietnamese recipes, check out my good friend Tyna’s Instagram.


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