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Career ladders or job levels

This page is part of the Career Path section.

Many big companies, and lots of small ones too, have a career ladder or a set of progressive career levels. At Microsoft the progression goes roughly like this:

flowchart TD A[ Program Manager I] B[ Program Manager II] C[ Senior Program Manager] D[ Principal Program Manager] E[ Partner Program Manager] A --> B --> C --> D --> E

Note: Microsoft is credited with introducing the concept of "Program Manager" as a job title and job role. It is often abbreviated as "PM." This abbreviation is also used for the related jobs of "Product Manager" and "Project Manager." Be sure what role you are applying for in your job search. While similar in some ways, there are important differences between these roles.

New graduates and early in career folks typically start as a TPM I. This is entry level (with the exception of internships or cooperative education ("co-op") programs for students still in school.) As your scope of responsibility, experience, and skills grows you can be promoted to higher levels.

Note that many companies, especially modern, technology-driven companies, expect you to be operating sustainably at the a higher level before you will be promoted. This is to ensure that you are capable of succeeding at the higher level long term. In short, "do the job, get the promotion." This differs from more traditional companies that might promote someone into a level and then expect them to perform. Or that promote people based on seniority / longevity at the company.

Other big companies have similar job ladders or career levels but they go by slightly different names and may have fewer or more steps.

At Electronic Arts (EA) the levels for Development Director used to go like this:

flowchart TD A[ Associate Development Manager] B[ Development Manager 1] C[ Development Manager 2] D[ Development Director ] E[ Development Director 2 ] F[ Senior Development Director ] G[ Director of Product Development ] H[ Senior Director of Product Development ] A --> B --> C --> D --> E --> F --> G --> H

Not all Development Director roles at EA are directly aligned to the TPM role, but many are. Development directors are a blend of people, project / program, technology, and process management.

The point of all this is to advise you to apply for roles that you qualify for or that are a bit of stretch for you. As an early-in-career TPM don't apply to Principal TPM roles. At least not at big companies. You're just wasting your time and the time of the recruiters and hiring managers at those companies.

Here's a summary of TPM levels at top technology companies based on my research. Note that I have only worked at Microsoft so I cannot confirm the level information from the other companies. If you can confirm or provide corrections please fill out this feedback form.

For a Technical Program Manager (TPM) role, the job levels across major tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook (now Meta) can vary in terminology but are usually structured in a way that reflects increasing responsibility and expertise. Here’s a breakdown in a tabular format:

Level Amazon Microsoft Google Meta (Facebook etc.)
Entry-Level / Associate L4: TPM I Level 59-60: Program Manager Associate Product Manager (APM) TPM I
Mid-Level L5: TPM II Level 61-62: Program Manager II TPM II TPM II
Senior L6: Senior TPM Level 63-64: Senior Program Manager Senior TPM TPM III
Principal / Lead L7: Principal TPM Level 65-67: Principal Program Manager Principal TPM Principal TPM
Senior Principal / Director L8: Senior Principal TPM Level 68-69: Partner Program Manager Director, Program Management Director, Program Management
Distinguished / Vice President L10: Distinguished TPM Level 80+: Corporate Vice President

Please note:

  • This table provides a general overview, and there might be slight variations or additional levels within each company.
  • Some companies, like Google, use slightly different titles or have less granular public information on specific levels.
  • Meta (Facebook, etc.) and Google have overlapping terms but can include different responsibilities or expectations at the same level.