Becoming a technical program manager is a dream for many. Technical program managers are the ones who handle all technical projects for their respective organizations. A reliable technical program manager oversees a program from initiation to completion.
A technical program manager differs from a product manager because technical program managers work more closely with the development team. It is an excellent role for those interested in software who want to lead, manage, or use their creative skills.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, technical program management is rising, with an expected growth of 15% by 2024. So, this is the perfect time for interested candidates to take a step forward. It is an excellent career choice for those who thrive on technology and bring new advancements to their organizations. Also, it is a perfect opportunity for those who enjoy maintaining client relationships and guiding teams to success.
Continue reading this guide to learn more about technical program managers. We will start with technical program management fundamentals and move to the steps one must take to become a successful technical program manager.
Learn Technical Program Management Fundamentals
Technical program managers are figureheads who manage and lead a specific product team within the company. They communicate with administrators and other product managers to ensure they are informed and that any critical information gets to their team. A technical program manager works closely with engineers and stakeholders to initiate large and complex technical programs.
Technical program managers are also responsible for the final call on problem resolution for their product. Usually, this involves analyzing previous data and developer proposals to choose the best fix for a given problem. It is also the technical manager’s job to ensure that the development team has the necessary resources.
In order to become a technical program manager, you should be a skilled communicator and possess sharp technical skills to handle any glitches and bugs. To stay in demand, a technical program manager must monitor technological advancements and implement better technological solutions.
So, all in all, technical program managers help companies drive strategy, collaborate with cross-functional stakeholders, align teams, and deliver on multiple complex projects. It requires a tricky balance of credentials and technical expertise to make them good at managing others. It also requires business intelligence to help them communicate with upper management.
Get Familiar with the Technical Program Management Process
Technical project managers lead technical subject matter experts within their organization. They utilize their industry expertise to enhance planning and resource management involving technical and non-technical projects.
Technical project managers must be proficient in technical project management tools like GANTT charts and scheduling software, Agile methodology, and project management and communication software.
According to Monday.com, technical project managers generally take on a combination of project management roles and tasks in their day to day work, such as brainstorming, planning, designating, scheduling, executing the project phase, managing the project budget, conveying information to the stakeholders, and collaborating with department heads.
In order to be a technical project manager, you should be able to optimize your communication skills and manage the technical complexities and resources throughout the project.
To get a better idea of technical program management, below is the list of duties a technical program manager has to perform:
Create project plans that tell the scope, resources, timeline, and business justification for the project or program
- Track the progress of ongoing projects and allocate additional resources whenever required
- Communicate the progress, blockers, and direction with the right stakeholders through frequent meetings. The product team, other project managers, and company administrators are the most common stakeholders.
- Create a visual representation of your tracking metrics, such as customer adoption graphs or burn-down charts
- Analyze risks that may affect the project and create a process that stops those risks
Once you know who technical project managers are and what is the technical project management process, it is time to learn the degrees and experience required for the particular job.
Study Your Line of Business and Industry
Technical project management is more than knowing how to initiate a product. It is because every product fills a market niche, and you need to find that niche to succeed. You must also research your market and study it in a detailed way.
A technical project manager is not an entry-level position. This requires deep knowledge of the industry and landscape when transitioning into it.
It is worth mentioning here that some employers value experience over education in some instances when hiring for a technical program manager position. So, it is worth working in any technical position like system administrator or software developer before applying for the technical project manager job in a tech organization.
Different types of experience make a hiring manager sit up and take notice of your profile. One of these experiences is to have a team leader or manager job in a field that puts you in charge of several employees while guiding them toward completing assigned projects.
In short, to pass your interview and become a technical project manager, you must study your line of business and industry. Show employers how versatile you are in your skills and how these skills apply in various ways. Find ways to use your knowledge and skills in technical project management roles and the industry you are applying to. By doing this, you will get a technical project manager position successfully.
Develop Your Projects to Build Program Management Skills
Once you have the formal education, learned the basic skills, and gained experience, you can begin putting together your own practice projects to showcase your skills and gain more experience.
Even if you are at an early stage and do not complete the entire technical product management cycle, you should demonstrate your abilities within its individual steps. You can start searching for the product and the right market for it or begin to perform user testing and guide stakeholders.
Although these individual steps will not give you the complete product, you will still get the opportunity to practice brainstorming and strategic thinking to prove your abilities. It will also help you catch your mistakes, recover from them, and achieve the objectives you set out to achieve.
However, know that technical product management is a highly collaborative process. To take your practice projects to the next level, you will need to connect with like-minded people who can demonstrate their own set of skills. Collaborating with the team will enable you to put your projects together and also help you develop some of the essential skills a technical product manager should have.
With your education and technical skills already under your belt, you stand a good chance of securing a technical project manager position. However, always remember that a technical product manager’s role is not only translating skills into technical project management institute. They are also responsible for making new connections between people and departments, tackling different tasks, and bringing everyone together to support a common cause.
Create an Online Portfolio to Showcase Your Work
Once you have practiced and developed your own projects, it is time to showcase them by creating a work portfolio. Every project that you have completed or participated in can be a part of your portfolio. It is your primary tool to show off your talents to potential employers.
There is no single template for how to put together a portfolio. Every technical product manager’s work varies greatly depending on the type of products and companies they have contributed to.
So, in the absence of a template, there are two principles that you must follow. First, use your portfolio to highlight your strength as a technical product manager rather than trying to include everything. It means focusing on the projects you are most proud of and using the projects that tested your strengths.
Second, make sure your portfolio represents every aspect of your projects. It must communicate what contributions you made, what obstacles you faced, and the solutions you innovated to overcome them. You can also write how to frame your strengths as a narrative and approach the work.
The next step is to get that portfolio in front of potential hires. For this, find technical product management roles all over online job boards. You can also showcase your portfolio to your potential network inside or outside the company you already work for.
Depending on your location, there are solid opportunities for technical product managers to meet with other people and work in the field. However, remember that making industry connections and diversifying your skills may get you more eyeballs and opportunities, but it is not the guarantee of getting a job. For this, your portfolio must be excellent, and your skills must set you apart.
What is the Salary of a Technical Program Manager?
The technical program manager role usually comes when an organization needs structure and discipline within its IT ranks and responsibilities. As such, they are rare to find in small and mid-size organizations. So, salaries vary depending on the demand and location of the job.
For a rough estimate, the average salary of a technical program manager in the San Francisco Bay area is $239,000 annually. The national median wage in the US is $150,000 annually. However, LinkedIn undercuts the Bay Area salary and puts it at $190,000 annually. Indeed.com puts the national total median wage at $160,000.
With the popular demand and high salaries of a technical program manager, you might already be wondering how to become a technical program manager. So, here is your comprehensive step-by-step guide to joining this career.
How to Become a Technical Program Manager With No Experience
First and foremost, look for the requirements in a technical program manager job description and see if you have them already. These requirements may include:
- Bachelor’s in Computer Science (or a comparable Bootcamp)
- software development experience of three to five years (system design preferred)
- 1–2 years of experience working with the particular product
- 1 – 2 years of experience delivering IT products to consumers
- 1–2 years of experience in IT operations or another profession requiring risk assessment
- Powerful communication abilities
- Pay close attention to planning and organization
- Extensive experience in leading
Many technical program managers typically possess a bachelor’s degree in computer science, management, business administration, or similar fields. Some technical managers take control and go for related courses online and receive certification. Whatever the case for you, make sure you have the prerequisites to become a technical program manager.
If you have the required qualification, the next step will be to seek opportunities to take on responsibilities as a developer. It could be taking the lead on solving a particular problem or proposing a new feature idea to your manager. It would help if you also took any opportunities to lead a team. In the end, this is the most direct way to signal your potential as a leader.
Thirdly, improve your organization and communication skills. Keep building your reputation as a well-organized and disciplined worker while seeking opportunities and pounding them.
After acquiring the required qualification and skills, focus on building your online presence. Even if you are not in a leadership role right now, maintain your online presence by posting about the leadership articles you are reading.
You can also write a paragraph about what you think about popular concepts like Agile Development. Or, you can also link to certificates of online courses that you got.
Today, the most popular and valid way to maintain your online presence and showcase your skills is LinkedIn. Set up your profile if you have not already, and start talking about the things that matter to your career.
Demonstrating your technical as well as interpersonal skills and certifications on online platforms, especially LinkedIn will bring employers that are interested in administrative roles. So, keep your account posted, as you never know when you get an interview call for the technical program manager.
The last and most crucial part of becoming a technical program manager is to prepare for the interview questions. Technical program manager interviews can be tricky as questions can be very open-ended. So, if you land an interview, be sure to get a wide range of questions. Some questions will be more technical than others.
To better prepare, we have prepared a list of categories that are most important from the interview’s perspective.
Here are the categories:
- Behavioral: Handling conflicts between team members
- System Design: Finding and fixing the problem of a malfunctioning system
- Program Management: Identifying and addressing the risk of a development roadmap
- Process Design: Rolling out a new process for your team
- Metrics: Measure the team’s performance and gauge success
What Does It Take to Become a Great Technical Program Manager?
Getting a technical product manager is one thing, but how do you become a great technical program manager? To become a great technical program manager, below are the eight characteristics that you must incorporate into yourself:
Empathy can be social awareness, emotional intelligence, or good people skills. It is essential when you are giving an interview, maximizing user experience, or building authentic relationships within your team.
For every technical program manager, vision is vital for the job. However, only vision is not enough as you need to have a clear sense of what should be done and motivate your team to do it.
Curiosity underlies all the things a technical program manager needs to know. It includes the field’s technical aspects, changing the marketplace landscape, and constant learning to stay up to date.
Creative Problem-Solving skills
There is no second opinion that technical program managers solve problems. But problem-solving is not just a knack for sorting things; it is also an essential step in program management. Solving issues also means identifying and defining a need within the marketplace and being the first to innovate a product.
A great technical program manager prioritizes which problems the team will solve first and the product’s features. It is crucial to make appropriate business decisions and assign resources where they are needed most.
A great technical program manager must build processes that devise and administer the systems that guide the different management stages. Technical program management generally comprises multiple projects running in parallel. These projects follow a given process to see them through, whether design thinking or Agile for feature rollout.
When becoming an excellent technical program manager, you must remember that the program management field is collaborative. So, to excel at it, you must lead a team, liaise with company leadership, present to stakeholders, and even sit down with test users and clients to better understand their needs.
Not only for the job, but a technical program manager must also be good at self-management. You will need a cool head, the ability to work under duress, and a clear sense of your priorities and company. So, the job is not only about what you do on the job but also about your off-the-job activities and self-care.
To top it all, anyone with an interest and stern determination to become a technical project manager can find ways to get into the field. You only need to mold your skills to technical program management roles and the industry you are applying for.
Be as diverse as you can in getting skills and management experience from different fields in the administrative role. Identify the most sought skills in technical program management and find ways to develop those skills in your current work environment. In addition, leverage your soft skills to stand apart and become an excellent technical program manager.
Always remember, whether you are just starting, advancing, or upskilling as a technical program manager, your growth in technical program management depends only on you. So, whatever you do, take charge of it as a leader and administrator.