Are you thinking of becoming a technical program manager? Do you already have an interview lined up for a TPM position?
The TPM interview can feel daunting, and we're here to help you prepare.
About this guide: We interviewed 6 FAANG+ technical program managers to create this prep guide and our TPM interview course. It includes real-world practice questions, mock interviews, and rubrics to grade your answers.
Below, you'll find a list of the most commonly asked technical program management interview questions and what to expect in the interview.
There are four key components to TPM interviews. They are:
The responsibilities of a technical program manager are a little more big-picture than that of a software engineer.
Expect to answer questions about system design. You'll be asked to think through and design a product’s system architecture from scratch.
Another critical piece of the TPM role is managing programs.
Program sense questions evaluate your ability to think and work through technical dependencies, project management, product context, execution, strategy, and impact on a team.
Technical program managers sit at a crossroads between many different teams and departments.
Cross-functional partnership questions seek to discover your capability to manage these complex relationships.
Behavioral interview questions are designed to get to know you better based on how you performed in past roles and situations.
Chances are, you’ve been asked plenty of them interviewing for your previous roles.
Below, you’ll find several sample questions for each category.
Practice just one type of question at a time. That way, you’ll get a better idea of your particular strengths and weaknesses.
While system design and technical interview questions can be fairly ambiguous and intimidating for some, they are ultimately consequential to your interview performance.
Here’s a sample answer by our co-founder Jacob to the question “Design Instagram:”
As a technical program manager, you’ll be primarily tasked with managing a “program” or technical process at your organization.
Many of the questions you’ll field during the TPM interview will be designed to evaluate your “program sense” or your ability to understand and improve these technical processes, drawing upon your past experience.
Here’s a sample answer to the question: ”tell me about a time you improved an inefficient process”
As a technical program manager, you’ll need to navigate several cross-functional relationships and partnerships while managing your programs. So, don’t be surprised when many of your behavioral questions during the technical program manager interview center around cross-functional partnerships.
Generally speaking, these interview questions will evaluate:
Check out this sample answer by a Google TPM to the interview question, “Tell me about a time you faced technical and people challenges at the same time.”
TPMs start their careers in many different roles. Many begin as software engineers.
Nevertheless, as these engineers rise through the ranks to become technical program managers, chances are they won’t be coding anymore, or not nearly as much.
TPM is a big-picture role. But it’s undeniably a technical one, of course. Therefore, in the TPM interview, system design questions are emphasized over other types of technical interview questions.
The term ‘system design’ refers to the technical design of the interfaces, modules, data, and system architecture according to some given requirements or specifications of a product.
The TPM role requires candidates that deeply understand how distributed systems work, and how every component of that system functions, communicates and scales. Otherwise, TPMs would not have the necessary knowledge for effective high-level and strategic decision-making.
As the name suggests, a critical part of technical program management is, of course, the managing of programs. That is, managing technical processes designed to actualize the goals of an organization.
A TPM’s “program sense” is their capability to comprehend and build upon these technical programs.
Ultimately, there are four main aspects to program sense. These are:
A cornerstone of managing programs is managing the people involved in them. This means that TPMs must know how to effectively influence these teams to achieve the program’s goals.
As such, you should expect program sense questions to evaluate how you, as a candidate, can navigate all the stakeholders of a program. This naturally requires great communication skills and technical knowledge.
How do you pitch your ideas around these programs to the teams involved in them?
Navigating Technical Dependencies
A centerpiece of a TPM’s role is navigating through technical dependencies. This is especially important considering TPMs are usually tasked with driving deadlines and business processes to completion.
A crucial piece of a TPM’s program sense is knowing how to best work around technical constraints.
Amongst many others, TPMs work closely with product management teams. Together, TPMs and PMs work to ship their products. While it is a technical role, it is vital, for this reason, for TPM candidates to understand product requirements, context, and vision.
Last but not least, TPMs ultimately need to get their products shipped. This usually means executing and shipping code. A critical aspect of their program sense in this regard is their ability to expedite and simplify their programs.
While TPMs must manage technical programs, this also means the management of the cross-functional relationships that come with it. Technical programs involve many different teams and departments. It is part of a technical program manager’s responsibility to navigate these cross-functional partnerships and keep everyone on track and on the same page.
Generally speaking, these interview questions are focused on:
To give you a better idea about what cross-functional partnerships are all about, here are some of the teams you’ll likely work with:
Naturally, TPMs will work most closely with the engineering teams. Of which, you’ll likely partner with many engineering managers and tech leads.
It’s recommended that you maintain good relationships with these stakeholders, considering you’ll work with them on essential timelines, processes, and milestones.
Together, PMs and TPMs work to keep the shipping of products on track. This relationship is a partnership in every sense of the word.
In many instances, technical insights from a TPM can influence how PMs design their product roadmaps and vice versa.
Data is bigger than ever at today’s tech companies. Whereas in years past, these teams may have been wrapped up under engineering, with the advent of big data, they typically have large teams all to themselves.
There are many data-related partnerships TPMs will make during their duties. Whether they be with biz ops analysts or data analysts, TPMs work alongside quantitative teams to investigate and analyze the effectiveness of technical programs.
One of the most significant aspects of these partnerships is communicating these insights to other stakeholders.
Finally, TPMs may find themselves working with the design teams. At the end of the day, there can be no product launch without the work of designers.
These teams will undoubtedly have their own roadmaps and timelines, which may or may not align with your other partners. TPMs must know how to work with the design teams to keep everything on track.
Chances are, there will be a program manager involved with the design teams that you can work with alongside.
Needless to say, this article shouldn’t be the only form of preparation for your upcoming TPM interview process. Chances are you'll need to also prepare for technical questions, coding questions, program management questions, and more to ace your TPM interview.
Luckily, we have tons of different technical program manager interview resources here at Exponent to help you set yourself up for success.
💬 Review more commonly asked sample technical program manager interview questions
📖 Read through our company-specific Technical Program Manager interview guides
👯♂️ Practice your behavioral and program sense skills with our mock interview practice tool.
👨🎓 Take our comprehensive Technical Program Management interview course
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