If you’re looking for a challenging and rewarding career path, one that can take you all over the world, then becoming a technical program manager may be right for you. TPMs are responsible for managing complex technology projects, and their skills are in high demand across many industries. Here’s what you need to know about the TPM career path:
1. What Is a Technical Program Manager?
Technical Program Managers are responsible for managing the technology development of a given project, usually within an organization. They must develop a strategy to solve problems, ensure tasks are completed on time and guide the team through potential challenges. TPMs might manage complex projects that require the work of dozens of individuals from different departments throughout their company.
TPMs might work directly with the departments involved in a project, such as development and engineering. They may also be responsible for interfacing with clients or external organizations collaborating on a project. For example, TPM’s might coordinate with auditors to develop performance metrics specific to an airline industry (such as baggage handling times).
TPM’s may work with multiple teams within their company, such as engineering and development. However, it is not uncommon for TPM’s to lead the entire project independently.
2. What Type of Projects Do They Manage?
While TPM’s usually manage technology-related projects, they might also be responsible for managing projects on the business side of an organization. For example, they might work with marketing managers or human resources professionals to help coordinate a project that requires cross-departmental collaboration.
TPM’s might manage the development process for new products and services. They will typically handle tasks such as:
- Defining requirements for a project.
- Managing the design of a product or service.
- Ensuring tasks are completed on time and within budget.
- Leading a team through potential challenges and roadblocks.
- Managing customer expectations throughout the process.
3. What Role Does a TPM Play on a Team?
TPM’s usually have the most responsibility of any manager within their project. They might manage a development team, but they may also need to coordinate with managers from other departments depending on how large the project is. While they are responsible for getting things done and maintaining a positive working environment, they may also need to handle a high management level.
4. What Skills and Experience Do You Need?
While many organizations have specific requirements for their TPM’s, there are a few characteristics that most companies will be looking for:
· Some level of project management certification is usually required. Certifications such as Project Management Professional (PMP) and Prince2 certification will help you increase your marketability.
· Excellent communication skills. The TPM needs to effectively communicate with management and team members, which means their written and verbal communication should be at a high level. TPM’s tend to work in an environment where they manage highly technical professionals, so having excellent communication skills can be a huge asset.
· Leadership ability is essential. TPM’s should inspire their team members to strive towards the same goals that they have for the project. They will often lead the larger group of individuals involved with the project but may also need to inspire specific teams if managed directly by the TPM.
· A technology or business-related degree may be necessary, as well as certifications such as PMP and Prince2 (see above). If you have a background in technology, this can make you stand out from other candidates since many companies view these skills as essential for success within their projects. If you have a business background, this can help you better understand the type of project you will be managing.
5. Salary of a Technical Program Manager
The average salary for a technical program manager is $115,000. However, this can vary depending on the level of experience an individual has and the location of the job. In major metropolitan areas such as New York City or San Francisco, TPM’s will likely have a higher salary than those in other parts of the country. Additionally, those with more experience and who hold certifications such as PMP or Prince2 can expect to make more money than those with less experience.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2013 median pay for a program manager was $100,560 per year or $48.99 per hour. The highest-paid managers made more than $187,199 a year or $85.24 an hour, while the lowest-paid 10 percent made under $44,180 per year or $20.68 an hour.
6. Program Manager vs. Technical Program Manager
A program manager, also known as a project manager, directs a particular project from beginning to end. They may have technical duties on their projects, but they manage more non-technical people. A technical program manager is responsible for managing large-scale programs requiring strong technical and managerial skills. These individuals are often software engineers or system administrators who work for themselves or consulting firms.
As far as salary is concerned, project managers make more than TPM’s on average. The BLS reports that the median pay for a project manager was $79,680 per year or $36.24 an hour in 2013.
7. The Job Outlook for a Technical Program Manager
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for a technical program manager is positive. This is due to the increasing number of projects being outsourced to companies and the need for project management professionals. As more companies require TPM’s, the demand for these individuals will continue to grow. Those who have the required skills and certification, such as PMP or Prince2, will have the best opportunities available to them.
If you are interested in becoming a TPM, find your niche within the project management field. Look at the different types of projects you can manage, ranging from web development to design projects. Then focus on these specific areas to have the most relevant experience available when applying for jobs or on LinkedIn.
8. The Benefits of Being a Technical Program Manager
Some of the benefits of being a technical program manager include:
You Get to be on the Cutting Edge of Technology
Program managers work with the latest technologies and test new products before they are released to the market. This allows program managers to stay ahead of competitors in their field.
You Can Impact the way People Live
Using innovative technology that is changing how people live and work is a big draw for many program managers. For example, program managers travel with medical equipment to underdeveloped countries to ‘test’ the latest life-saving technology before it’s released worldwide.
You Get Your Hands Dirty
Many program managers report having their hands on the products they test (and sitting in the driver’s seat of a race car).
You Get Paid Well
Program managers are skilled professionals with various backgrounds, but many have degrees in computer science or engineering. They typically have at least ten years of experience and earn an average salary of USD 100K – depending on what industry you work in and specific job role, you can earn much more.
You Get to do Something Different Every Day (and be Creative)
Program managers are always looking for innovative ways to solve problems and test technologies, meaning you never know what you’re going to work on from one day to the next.
You Get an Excellent Geeky Office Environment
You work with the latest gadgets, wear jeans to work, and enjoy free lunches.
You Help People
Whether you’re working on advancement in medical technology or a new digital device, you are making vital contributions that help millions of people every day.
9. The Challenges of Being a Technical Program Manager
Some of the challenges of being a technical program manager include:
You Have a Lot of Responsibility
No matter what industry you work in, you are ultimately responsible for the products and technology you test. This means if something goes wrong or a product fails to deliver on its promises, it is your name on the line.
You Have to Learn Constantly
Program managers are always looking for ways to improve or test new technologies, so most spend time outside of office hours reading papers and talking to colleagues to stay up-to-date with developments in their field.
You Spend Most of Your Time Thinking, Not Doing
Most program managers don’t get their hands on the products they test until the last possible moment before release (when everything has to be perfect). This means you spend most of your day writing reports and reading work from other people.
The Job Can be a Bit Lonely
Since program managers usually work outside of office hours (when your friends and family are available) and stay up to date with what’s happening in their field, they can sometimes feel isolated from the people around them.
You Have to be a ‘People Person
To test new technologies effectively, you need to work with the product developers and the engineers that build the technology. This means program managers need to have solid people skills to get their colleagues on board and unearth problems early before they become issues down the road.
You Don’t Get a Lot of recognition for Your Work
After all, most program managers don’t get their hands on the products they test or alongside the people that use them, so your work is often invisible to most people.
10. Courses One Can Pursue to Become a Technical Program Manager.
Some of the courses one can pursue to become a technical program manager include:
Bachelor of Science – Computer Science
A Bachelor’s degree in computer science is an excellent start to your career as a program manager. This type of degree provides you with an understanding of the technologies that go into modern devices and how they work together. In addition, since many program managers have degrees from top-ranking universities, having a degree from a similar institution can help your career prospects.
Bachelor of Science – Engineering
A bachelor’s degree in engineering is another excellent option for program managers since it provides you with a solid foundation in mathematics and physics, giving you an understanding of the laws that govern technology. It also provides critical problem-solving skills required to succeed as a program manager.
Bachelor of Science – Software Engineering
Since software engineering is growing every year, having a degree in this area can provide you with valuable skills to succeed as a program manager. A degree in software engineering provides you with a great understanding of computer programming languages and how to develop software efficiently.
Master’s Degree – Computer Science
If you want to be a program manager, you need to understand the technologies of modern devices and how they work together. A master’s degree in computer science will provide you with this knowledge and help distinguish you from other candidates further.
Master’s Degree – Engineering
A master’s degree in engineering can help to distinguish yourself from other candidates. It also provides you with the skills required to work as a program manager, such as problem-solving and quantitative analysis.
Master’s Degree – Software Engineering
A master’s degree in software engineering can help to differentiate you from other candidates and provide you with the skills required for your job, including computer programming languages and software development.
11. Eligibility Criteria for Becoming a Technical Program Manager
Now that you know the type of education required, it’s essential to look at other factors affecting your eligibility as a candidate. These factors include:
Previous Work Experience
A bachelor’s degree usually takes four years to complete, meaning it will likely take you two to four years after graduating to land your first job as a program manager. However, the average experience level of those in this role is between three and five years. So if you can’t find an entry-level position right out of school, consider working as a software engineer or product manager for at least three years before applying for program manager positions.
Experience in the Technology Sector
If you are hoping to apply for a technical program manager position, it’s best to have experience within the technology industry. This does not necessarily mean that you need to come from a technical background or even be employed as a programmer, but rather have some knowledge of the industry.
Experience With a Software Engineering Degree
Since many program managers have degrees from top-ranking universities, having a degree from a similar institution can help your career prospects. So if you have a computer science or software engineering background, you will likely have an advantage in applying for these positions. In addition, most companies want their program managers to have a degree from a similar institution, so having one of these degrees can help increase your chances of being successful in an interview.
12. Top Recruiting Companies for a Technical Program Manager
Some of the top recruiting companies for a technical program manager include:
- IBM Global Services
- Tech Mahindra
- Cognizant Technology Solutions
- L&T Infotech
- HCL Technologies
- Mindtree Limited
13. Best Colleges to Study Technical Program Management or Engineering
If you are looking for the best colleges to study technical program management or engineering, look no further. The following list provides a comprehensive overview of some of the best schools in the country that offer these programs.
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- Stanford University
- University of California, Berkeley
- The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- University of Michigan
- The University of Texas at Austin
If you are interested in this career path, the first step is to ensure that your resume reflects what an employer would be looking for. You should include technical skills like IT project management and system administration and soft skills like leadership and communication abilities. Once you have done all of these things, it’s time to start networking with people who work in the field or know someone who does. The more connections you can build before applying for a job opening, potential employers will notice when they see your name come up on their applicant list!