The Ultimate Associate Product Manager Guide: Language and Thought


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Sep 18, 2023

5 min read


The Ultimate Associate Product Manager Guide: Language and Thought

What is an associate product manager? Associate product managers hold many of the same responsibilities that product managers do: collecting quantitative product data and metrics, synthesizing customer research, gathering requirements, and coordinating with stakeholders. In terms of product responsibility, associate product managers generally work on features for a mature product, instead of working on the product itself.

When an organization is mature enough, they’ll start focusing on how to capture talent early on. Especially since qualified product managers can be difficult to acquire, organizations use the associate product manager role to bring junior talent into the company, then train them into the product manager that they need.

How can I get into this role? You’ll need to demonstrate that you know how to ship a product and how to prioritize conflicting needs and requests. You’ll want to showcase previous experiences where you learned quickly from past failures, and you’ll want to highlight your ability to empathize with customers, engineers, and other stakeholders. Generally speaking, the associate product manager role is targeted at candidates coming right out of college, since associate product managers are compensated less than product managers.

Now, let's switch gears and talk about language and thought. The issue of whether we think in a natural language such as English or Italian, or instead in something else together – in The Language of Thought (LoT), as I shall in fact argue! Natural language, to begin here, may be defined in many different ways: as a (computational) system of the mind, along with its connection to other mental systems, like Noam Chomsky has long argued; as a set of mental representations, perhaps in terms of propositional attitudes, as exemplified by a sentence like "I believe/fear that this post will go unread," a position the philosopher Jerry Fodor once defended; as a purely communicative system, thereby closely connected to mind reading (the ability to ascribe mental states like beliefs and desires to others) and the like, as the psychologist Michael Tomasello proposes; as an exclusively real-time processing phenomenon (language as a); etc.

In fact, it is not an uncommon feature of the language-and-thought literature that the eventual terms of comparison employed in many a study are in fact the result of the conclusion to an argument on how to relate the two phenomena rather than a principled way to approach the problem at hand. Linguistic representations may be the actual vehicles of the main medium of thought humans employ; thought may be in fact impossible without language, this capacity necessitating the representation of the propositional attitudes, an ability some scholars have argued to be only achievable by employing language (or so have philosophers Donald Davidson and Ruth Millikan argued); language may connect different conceptual systems of the mind via specific linguistic representations (most probably, syntactic representations), these systems otherwise unconnected in the absence of a fully formed language faculty, the favorite take of the philosopher Peter Carruthers.

Perhaps one way of answering both questions is to determine whether any of the representations language provides – syntactic, phonological, semantic, etc. a) what philosophers usually call content, or a proposition, the kind of objects over which propositional attitudes range, and the objects of beliefs themselves (e.g., the proposition that this post will go unread) b) the representational vehicle, or format, of a thought representation, that is, the structural properties of a thought representation.

By natural language, I will here understand, following the line defended by the generative grammar enterprise in the last 60 or so years, the faculty of language (FoL, in short), an architectural state of the mind composed of the following components: a combinatorial operation that combines linguistic pieces (words, phrases, etc.); a set of lexical items (bundles of syntactic, phonological, and perhaps semantic, features; lexical items are realized as words in speech); and two interfaces that connect the faculty with other systems of the mind, namely the sensorimotor (SM; roughly, the sound/sign systems) and the conceptual-intentional (C/I; even more roughly, the thought/meaning systems). Concepts are abstract, therefore amodal, stable and thus re-usable, and must be embedded in a conceptual repertoire of not insignificant structure, a conglomerate of properties that would allow for the combination of mental representations into ever more complex representations.

In conclusion, both the role of an associate product manager and the relationship between language and thought are complex and multifaceted. To succeed as an associate product manager, it is crucial to demonstrate your ability to ship products, prioritize conflicting needs, and empathize with stakeholders. As for the connection between language and thought, while there are various theories and perspectives, it is clear that language plays a significant role in shaping and expressing our thoughts.

Actionable advice for aspiring associate product managers:

  • 1. Focus on gaining experience in shipping products and handling conflicting needs and requests. Seek internships or entry-level positions that allow you to work on real-life product development projects.
  • 2. Develop strong communication and empathy skills. Product management involves collaborating with various stakeholders, so being able to understand and empathize with their perspectives is essential.
  • 3. Stay updated on industry trends and developments. Being knowledgeable about the latest technologies, market trends, and customer preferences will give you a competitive edge in the field.

Actionable advice for understanding the connection between language and thought:

  • 1. Explore different theories and perspectives on the relationship between language and thought. Read books and articles by linguists, philosophers, and psychologists to gain a comprehensive understanding of the topic.
  • 2. Engage in introspection and self-reflection to analyze how language influences your own thought processes. Pay attention to the words and structures you use when thinking or expressing your ideas.
  • 3. Consider learning a new language or studying linguistics. Immersing yourself in a different linguistic system can provide valuable insights into how language shapes our thoughts and perceptions.

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