“So You Want To Be A Technical Program Manager”:  Candice Quadros with Roku (Video + Transcript)

May 29, 2024

Candice Quadros (Director of Program Management & Productivity at Roku) spoke about building an understanding of the Technical Program Management or “TPM toolbox”, creating an actionable plan for switching into TPM careers, and growing your TPM career.


In this ELEVATE session, Candice Quadros (Director of Program Management & Productivity at Roku) spoke about building an understanding of the Technical Program Management or “TPM toolbox”, creating an actionable plan for switching into TPM careers, and growing your TPM career.

Technical Program Management (AKA TPM) is a booming career option for many entry-level, mid-level and executive level professionals. Now, more than ever, TPMs are in high demand across the tech industry.

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Candice Quadros ELEVATE Technical Program Managers

Transcript of ELEVATE Session:

Candice Quadros:

Thank you so much, Sukrutha and the Girl Geek X community. Happy International Women’s Day. I hope you’re celebrating this day in your own unique way. My name is Candice Quadros and a very big welcome to all of you to my session today and my session is, “So you want to be a technical program manager.”

Most of you might have probably heard about the technical program management role and even general program management roles. They’re pretty much the buzzwords in the industry nowadays, and it is really a booming career option for employees no matter which way you are in your career, whether entry level, mid-level, or even executive level more than ever before.

I have seen so many roles for technical program managers as well as program managers in the tech industry, and I would love to share with you a few of my learnings with you today.Let me flip this slide. I’m currently at Roku. I’m the director for program management and productivity. I’m based in San Jose in the Bay Area. Prior to working at Roku, I’ve been in TPM leadership positions at Google and Microsoft.

Pretty much my entire 15 year career has been in the tech industry, but I didn’t start out as a technical program manager. In fact, I started out as a software developer at Microsoft. But early on in my career when I was interacting with the technical program managers on my team, I was really interested in the work that they did and I wanted to do what they did.

It was a long journey for me before I could make the switch from software development into technical program management. And this long journey had many steps and many, many missteps along the way. At today’s session, I hope to give you an overview of what it takes. What are those key skills that you would need to master so that you can make the switch into technical program management? And after you make the switch, how do you succeed in the technical program management discipline?

For the agenda today, for all of the aspiring TPMs and for all of the TPMs that want to grow their career, we’ll start out just defining what do we mean by TPM? And then understand what separates TPM from program manager and from project manager and what this means on a day-to-day basis. We’ll then dive into what I call the TPM toolbox, and these are the core tools or the core skills that are really the key to success in the TPM discipline. And finally, we’ll take a look at steps to getting that dream TPM job and how to be successful as a TPM.

To kick things off, a TPM is the one who creates the program strategy and creates the program goals. Then you are able to articulate that program strategy and those program goals, and then you are the one that passionately owns that strategy.

Once you own the strategy, you are the one that’s finally driving the program to completion and being relentless in getting to the program delivery. Driving to completion may mean many things. It could range from the simplest stuff, which is driving a meeting or to the more complicated stuff, such as aligning strategy or getting buy-in from executives.

The metaphor that I like to use is a TPM is just like an architect for a house who comes up and draws up the blueprints. The architect isn’t the one that’s building the drywall or installing the plumbing, but they are the ones that make sure all of these different projects come together to create that strategic vision, which is that beautiful house at the end of the day. Similarly, the TPM’s role is yes, you are responsible in a way for individual projects that come together, but you are thinking beyond these individual projects. You are thinking about long-term success, long-term strategic vision, and long-term realization of those business outcomes.

Before we get into the TPM skills, I also wanted to briefly touch on what separates TPM from general program managers and from project managers. You’ll see all these roles when you’re looking for a job, you’re going to see all these different roles in the job market, but each of them have key differences. And of course the expectations also are different for each of these roles.

If I had to say things in a nutshell, a TPM is the one that’s focused on delivery of technical programs, program managers focused on delivery of general programs. And the program itself is a group of projects and project managers are the ones that oversee these individual projects. The TPM role, in a sense, the TPM role encompasses all of the work that project managers do and program managers do.

The TPM adds in their own technical expertise. They are the ones that understand the technical area or they have that domain expertise. They’re able to speak the technical language, they’re able to identify and mitigate technical risks or technical issues. And TPMs and program managers, they’re the ones that focus on the long-term business objectives or long-term strategic goals. And how do groups of projects that build up a program, how do those groups of projects get us to achieve the strategic vision? Typically, TPMs and program managers are focused on the strategic vision, whereas project managers are focused on these individual projects and they’re focused on delivery of individual projects.

Again, the definition of a project varies from team to team or even company to company. Across the tech industry, you’ll see a variety of definitions for these roles as well as the project. There is a lot of nuance in what it means to be a TPM versus a program manager versus a project manager. But in general, this is kind of the framework that I go by when I’m trying to explain the differences between these roles.

Let’s step back and just take a look at what a day in the life of a TPM involves. And a lot of this might apply to the general program management role as well. The day in the life of a TPM typically involves daily management through the lifecycle of the technical program or technical project.

The TPM is the one that defines the program control. They define the processes, any kind of procedures, reporting, whatever you need to manage that technical program are defined by the TPM. They plan the overall program schedule, they plan out the milestones, they also monitor progress of the program with respect to the schedule and the milestones, so making sure that we are meeting the milestones that have been defined. TPMs also are able to identify and manage risks and issues that may arise. And these always do arise in any kind of program, especially in technical programs during the course of the program lifecycle.

The TPMs are the ones that have the capability of doing a thorough risk assessment, taking into account any kind of technical risks and issues, and then developing strategies or mitigation plans to correct these risks or issues or mitigate them as they occur. TPMs also coordinate dependencies between various different programs. There might be different engineering team working on programs that intersect each other in some way or have dependencies on each other. They’re the ones that coordinate this between the different teams, so identify and have that big picture view and understand what are the needs across the various teams that are partnering and then being able to come up with a dependency management plan. In some cases,

TPMs are also responsible for the resources that are assigned to the program. They manage and then they’re able to use the resources as necessary for successful delivery of the program. TPMs also sometimes end up managing stakeholders who are involved in the program, so these stakeholders might range from executives to individual contributors across the various teams. And then the TPMs are the ones that make sure the deliverables are lined across the program. That’s a lot of stuff.

This is in the day in the life of TPM may involve. All of these are a couple of these on a day-to-day basis. But you are essentially breathing, living, breathing, eating the program that you’re running, and you have a clear idea of what is the goal and how far are you away from the goal and what is it going to take to get to that goal.

All right, so now we can get into really the meat of the presentation today, which is the TPM toolbox. Being a TPM myself and being a TPM for pretty much my entire career, I really believe that delivery of great project or delivery of a great program is pretty much in the hands of one person, which is the TPM. It might sound counterintuitive to a lot of people because there is always a team that’s involved in this process. It’s not just one person that you would say, oh, you’re the one that’s responsible. There’s a whole team that’s part of this. It’s true that the team members are, each of them have a role to play. Each of them are crucial and really important to the success of the program. But the TPM is the one who takes on the responsibility for delivery of the program and outcome of the program.

The TPM so is always thinking about what are we trying to do with this program and how do we get there? The TPM is really burdened with the great task. They’re the one that, so you need a lot of skills and qualities and you need to build and develop these skills and qualities over the years and competencies over the years.

All the successful TPMs that I’ve talked to or I’ve worked alongside with have a TPM toolbox, which they use to run their programs and achieve those results. Let’s take a look inside what’s in this toolbox and what this is my perspective on what I think are some of the key skills that are needed to be a successful TPM.

Starting with the top level, every toolbox has the top layer when you open it up, these are the things on the top. This is where your most important, your most used tools are stored. These are the ones that you have to pick at. They’re the ones that you need handy. You’re always picking these tools out of your toolbox.

Having these can make or break your project or your program. The first one, the tool one that I consider really key is ownership as the TPM. Like I said, the TPM is the owner of this program. The TPM is the one that has to think to long-term think strategic. So when you are making trade-offs, you are thinking about the long-term value and not the short-term results, so you don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results because you are the owner and you’re thinking like that.

As the owner of these programs, you’re acting on behalf of your entire company. It, it’s not just you or your team, you’re thinking about the whole company. And also being the owner means as the TPM, you are never going to say, that’s not my job.

You are the owner. You’ll do whatever it takes to get your program to delivery. When I run my programs at Roku, they typically, the program teams range from five people to 50 people. And as an owner of these programs, I consider each of these people in my teams as resources that I can use and deploy to achieve the program goals.

Second thing I’d say here, tool number two is effective communication and high EQ. The successful TPM has to know how to communicate effectively because every person perceives information differently. Some people like numbers, they like data. Other people like to see the human side or the human outcome of an issue. The TPM has to be able to understand these different aspects and adjust their communication style. TPM also needs a high EQ that helps them assess their audience and tailor their communication.

The tool number three here is bias for action, so TPMs need to have bias for action because speed is really, really matters in business. You to be able to understand the difference between reversible and irreversible actions. There are many decisions or actions that you can take which are essentially reversible. These do not need extensive study or extensive research, but you should be able to take calculated risk taking so that you can keep your program moving forward.

Next level, in the toolbox of the middle layer, these are the tools that are really important for successful execution of your program. These are kind of TPM or program manager general competency.

First one is planning and tracking. A goal without a plan is just a wish. This is a very common phrase that’s used in the TPM world. What this means is, yes, you may have the goal, but if you don’t have a plan and you don’t have a path to get there, it’s never going to be a reality. A successful TPM needs to be really fluent in the language of planning. You have to be able to build a plan, build the milestones, and then track those milestones along the way. Add any kind of data deadlines, KPIs that give you and visibility and an indicator into how your program is functioning. Once you have the plan in place, you have to be able to do the tracking. The KPIs are the ones that can help you see how your project is doing or something is missing.

Tool number two is the ability to dive into the details. As a TPM, you should be able to operate at all levels. You should be connected to the details, but you should also be able to take a step up and say, okay, what is the big picture view? And you should be able to understand the data and then be able to dive into the data, be able to question and challenge the data, especially when the metrics are saying one story and the people are saying another story. As the TPM, you are the one that’s diving headfirst into the details and being able to trust and rely on your team, but also challenge them when the data doesn’t back up what they’re saying.

Then, tool number three here is team management. It’s really about you should be able to manage a team of people and bring them along with you on this journey to get the job done. You absolutely need to have the right people to complete the program successfully. You should able, if you have the opportunity to choose the people, you should choose them carefully. What are the types of people that you want to have on your team? What are the skill sets you’re looking for? What is the behavior that you want to see these team members displaying? When you have the team assembled and selected, you should be able to lead, be prepared to lead and manage this team. In the beginning of the program, typically people will need more guidance and explanation, and you would want them to buy into the vision of the program.

As you go along, conflicts are going to arise. People have to learn how to work with each other. This is a novel part of program execution. Nothing for you to be afraid of, but it’s something that you need to own. As the TPM, your job is to help your team through these conflicts, bring the conflicts out of the open and help the team resolve the conflicts. And then once you’re past that is when the team members should know how to work together and will be performing at their best.

And finally, the bottom layer. This contains many tools which you are maybe not going to be using on an everyday basis, but they are going to support the tools in the top two boxes. First one is time management. For your program to be on time, you have to be on time. That means you have to have proper planning. Conflict management is number two. This is a natural part of team formation. And number three is delegation, so just like any other type of management, you should have the ability to delegate your program to different people on the team.

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Share this