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How to become a Technical Program Manager

Part of the Introduction section.

Embarking on the journey to become a Technical Program Manager (TPM) is akin to setting sail on a voyage of discovery, navigating through the vast seas of technology, business, and leadership. In this section, we will chart a course to guide aspiring TPMs on their journey, discussing the steps to follow, the educational and professional requirements, and the skills needed to succeed in this rewarding and multifaceted role.

stack of books

Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Steps to Becoming a TPM

  1. Acquire a solid educational foundation: Pursue a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, such as computer science, information technology, engineering, or business. This foundation will equip you with the technical and analytical skills needed to navigate the complex world of technology and project management.
    1. We recognize and celebrate that some great TPMs do not have this educational background. It may not be available or right for everyone.
  2. Gain professional experience: Accumulate experience in roles related to technology, project management, or product development. This experience will provide invaluable insights into the practical aspects of managing large-scale technical projects and help you develop the necessary skills to excel as a TPM.
  3. Develop leadership and management skills: Seek opportunities to hone your leadership and management abilities, either through on-the-job experiences or formal training programs. Developing these skills will enable you to guide and inspire teams towards the successful execution of program objectives.
    1. Don't underestimate the skills you can learn in leadership during projects in formal education. Anyone faced with marshalling a team of distracted fellow students knows what a leadership challenge this can be.
  4. Expand your knowledge of project management methodologies: Familiarize yourself with various project management methodologies, such as Agile, Scrum, or Waterfall, and understand their applications in different contexts.
  5. Network and build relationships: Forge connections with professionals in the field, attend industry events and conferences, and join online communities dedicated to TPMs. Consider attending local or online meetups. These connections will not only provide valuable learning opportunities but also open doors to potential job or learning opportunities. Also network with other disciplines. Success for a TPM means working with a myriad of job families and specialties.
  6. Pursue certifications: Consider obtaining certifications, such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) or Certified Scrum Master (CSM), to validate your skills and demonstrate your commitment to the profession. (Note: We acknowledge that certifications alone do not a great TPM make. Certifications show that you've made the effort to learn enough to be certified.)
    1. You might also consider pursuing industry or vendor certifications from the likes of Amazon AWS, Google, or Microsoft. Again, the certification alone is not the point; using the certification exam as a forcing function to truly learn the material is what matters.

Many folks who pursue software engineering or computer science as a career come to realize they may never be world-class calibre in these professions. They may not have the skills, desires, or ability to dive deep into coding, programming, computer science, or hardware design. There's a role for these people in the role of TPM. Some of the best TPMs realize they have the capabilities that can help teams build world-class products or services without themselves having to write and ship code.

Educational and professional requirements

While there is no one-size-fits-all path to becoming a TPM, most successful TPMs share a common set of educational and professional experiences that have prepared them for the role. These typically include:

  1. A bachelor's degree: A degree in a relevant field, such as computer science, information technology, engineering, or business, provides the foundation for understanding the technical and strategic aspects of the role.
  2. Relevant work experience: Experience in technology, project management, or product development is essential for developing the practical skills and knowledge needed to manage complex technical programs.
  3. Leadership experience: Demonstrated leadership abilities, either through formal roles or informal experiences, are crucial for guiding and motivating teams in the TPM role. Note: Leadership in the educational, non-profit, or open source contexts qualifies!
  4. Project management knowledge: Familiarity with various project management methodologies and their applications is key to effectively managing large-scale technical projects.
  5. Certifications (optional): While not always required, certifications such as PMP or CSM can help validate your skills and enhance your credibility in the field.

Embarking on the journey to become a Technical Program Manager is both challenging and rewarding, offering a unique opportunity to make a lasting impact on the organizations and projects you serve. By following these steps and embracing the spirit of continuous learning and growth, you will be well-equipped to chart a successful course as a TPM in the ever-evolving world of technology and product development.