Exploring the IC Path

Learn about the IC career path for technical program managers to understand the evolving landscape.

The IC career path: deliverables and impact

The IC role is similar to that of other IC roles like software developer. As it suggests, an IC will contribute directly to the success of the company through deliverables, whether that’s code for an SDE or delivering a project for a TPM. This role works as part of a team in the sense that they work with other ICs to deliver results. Unlike an SDE role though, a TPM will rarely work with other TPMs from their own team. Instead, when working with other TPMs, it’s usually in a cross-organizational fashion.

Given that the IC role leans solely on the deliverables of the individual, the IC path tops off at the principal level in most companies. This is equivalent to a senior manager or director, depending on the company’s verticality. The reason for this largely comes down to the ability of a single person to have a large enough impact to warrant the level. Though TPMs are force multipliers, the people they work with are still within different organizations and their successes are not directly their own. The deliverables are also measured at the scope of a single program, and though this is large, it is not as large as the deliverables under a director or VP because they are measured by the entire work of their respective organization. This makes influencing without authority much harder at higher levels.

The evolving landscape: ICs and people managers

That’s not to say that a higher level isn’t achievable in some cases. For instance, Amazon recently merged the career path of the TPM and the software developer starting at the L8 level, now called the Senior Principal in Tech. This allows a TPM to achieve up to L10 as an IC which is a Distinguished Engineer in Tech (there is no L9 at Amazon). These roles show that at this level, their influence is geared towards the strategic goals of the company and the starting path is no longer relevant because they aren’t writing code or delivering on projects per se. Of the Big Five interviews, this level for the IC path was only seen at Amazon; however, this will likely be a trend we see moving forward that more companies to pick up.

The figure below denotes the career path of the IC TPM:

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