Understand the Career Progression

Discover what you can do with growth paths for TPM and PM.

It is always easy to think of career advancement as a straight line. However, the career path of a TPM is not as straightforward as roles like software engineers. There are a few reasons for this, but the most significant is that the TPM role is unique, and is newer and not as mature compared to other roles. With that said, here is a look at the typical career path of (T)PM, and what we can expect from different organizations. Vertical career growth requires us to master others because it involves management, whereas horizontal career growth requires us to master ourselves. After all, we need to keep changing hats and learn new skills over time.

Let us take a closer look.

Growing vertically

To grow, we need to leverage our existing skills to climb up the ladder in a straight line. Not mastering our existing skills hampers with additional managerial responsibilities as we progress.

Every organization is somewhat different, but these are the usual levels for the Technical Program Manager role:

  • Technical Program Manager: (IC-1 or IC-2)
  • Senior Technical Program Manager: (IC-3 ) They require some experience in program management
  • Manager, Technical Program Management (or staff TPM): They lead a team of TPMs
  • Senior Manager (or group) Technical Program Manager (or Principal TPM):
  • Director, Technical Program Management: They lead a big group of TPM’s and impact the organization.

It is an individual choice if we want to be an individual contributor all the way, or want to do people management by the path of Senior Manager/Director. Senior TPM ICs manage programs of vast scope, usually spanning multiple organizations, from conception to launch.

Principal TPMs are rare in big companies. They require a strong engineering background or a long career in project management. Also, they require persistence and endurance to reach that level. To get there, we need to be technically superior, a domain expert, and also a project management guru.

Microsoft is the only company where the PM role gets used for Product Manager and Program Manager. It might be the right place for us if we don’t want to always just be doing program management. Due to this, we have the option to transition to product management organically.

PM levels

Our levels get decided based on our performance in an interview. Every organization has some criteria to measure against, like their leveling rubric. In general, we get a measure for:

  • Technical competency (Only applies to Technical Program Manager, not Program Manager)
  • Project/program management and agile experience
  • Past experience in handling and leading teams

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