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How to transition from Engineering to TPM

I have received many requests from folks who want to transition to the TPM role from engineering roles.I often ask them about the motivation - what is it about the TPM role that they like. Collaborating with people or ability to see the big picture are common reasons.

My own career started out as a software engineer and I distinctly remember the project where I ended up wearing multiple hats and loved it. I also saw very strong program managers who inspired my journey.

Transitioning from engineering to TPM is sometimes easier because you already have the technical background. In my past post I talked about building up the “T” in TPM. An engineer already has that “T” and they should leverage that as they embark on the journey to TPM.

Here are 5 tips that will help you prepare for your next career move.

  1. Articulate the “Why” - Why do you want to become a TPM? What aspects of the role do you enjoy? What aspects could be challenging? What could be some pitfalls that you haven’t thought about?

  2. Answering these questions, even writing them down will make it real for you and provoke a deeper conversation with yourself.

  3. Oftentimes, we see the “greener” side of something, but be mindful of superficial reasons. The TPM job is not often well understood by all, so keep in mind that you will always have to educate the people around you on the value you bring to the team.

  4. The goal of doing this exercise is to understand your motivations and will also help during interviews.

  5. Plan your journey - Treat your career goal like a project and build out a schedule with a breakdown of work and milestones to get there. This program is totally under your control and will give you an idea on how to plan and execute.

  6. Decide your timeframe for making the official move

  7. Understand and lay out the steps you need to get there.

  8. Share your goals with friends and coworkers or even your manager. This will make the commitment real for you. Additionally, someone in your circle might know someone else who can help you or may even have the right role for you. So let the universe know :)

  9. Find ways to build your program management skills - Look for opportunities in your current role to take on bigger programs. If you are a technical lead, you may already be doing some of the collaboration, estimation, scheduling work with your team. Expand on your responsibilities.These projects can be within your domain so you can leverage your technical expertise.

  10. Reach out to any existing TPM and ask them if you can help in any area. They will be glad to have more support.

  11. Talk to your manager about dedicating some percent of your time to build the muscle for program management.

  12. Take program management courses to understand the fundamentals and how to apply them in real world scenarios.

  13. Hone your leadership and people skills - I have mentioned previously that soft skills are often the most important for being a successful TPM. Introspect and identify any areas that you would like to address and then work towards those.

  14. Strengthen up your presenting and public speaking skills.

  15. Refine and build your communication style

  16. Learn by observing other successful people

  17. Find a mentor or two - The best thing is to find someone who can help you and give you practical tips in the context of your team/company or someone well established in the TPM function. People are often more than willing to help.

  18. Having more than one mentor will give you different perspectives and give you more than one tool to handle tricky situations.

  19. Attend TPM networking events - TPMs like to meet and connect with each other to discuss ideas and share tips. This can be the start of building your community.

It has been 11 years since I started my career as a TPM and I cannot imagine it any other way. I hope the learnings from my experience help you become a successful and thriving TPM.

Please comment or email me if you have further questions.

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