top of page

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 Engineering to TPM role transition 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 Technical “T” in TPM. An engineer already has that “T” and they should leverage that as they embark on the journey to TPM.

In this guide, we'll explore the strategic transition from a Technical Program Manager (TPM) to an Engineering Manager, providing actionable tips and insights.

We will explore how to :

Engineering to TPM

Steps to transition from engineering to Technical Program Manager (TPM)

Here are 5 tips that will help you to know how to transition from engineer to manager and build out your TPM career path successfully.

Is the TPM role right for you?

Articulate "Why" 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?

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

  2. 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.

  3. Consider your tech career choices and evaluate against the TPM role, like TPM vs. engineering manager, TPM vs. software engineer to understand the differences and similarities.

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

  5. Many individuals considering the transition from Engineering to TPM are drawn to the leadership aspect of the latter, often motivated by a passion for guiding teams and overseeing larger projects.

Plan your journey

Treat your technical program manager 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.

  1. Decide your timeframe for making the official move

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

  3. 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 :)

Find ways to build your program management skills

Look for opportunities in your current role to take on bigger programs. IIf you are a technical lead, you may already be doing some of the collaboration, estimation, scheduling work with your team, which can help develop your TPM skills. Expand on your responsibilities.These projects can be within your domain so you can leverage your technical expertise.

  1. Reach out to any existing Technical Program Manager (TPM) and ask them if you can help in any area. They will be glad to have more support.

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

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

  4. As you plan your journey, outline specific steps for transition from Engineering to TPM. Define your timeframe and milestones for making this official move, treating your career goal as a strategic project.

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.

  1. Strengthen up your presenting and public speaking skills.

  2. Refine and build your communication style

  3. Learn by observing other successful people

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, especially if you're making the transition from Engineering to TPM. People are often more than willing to help.

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

  2. 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 over a decade since I started my career as a TPM and I hope the learnings from my experience help you become a successful and thriving TPM.

Here's another great article on how to develop the roadmap to TPM.


Interviewing for TPM role soon? Check out the Cracking the TPM Interview Course.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is TPM an engineering role?

TPM is a technical role and often falls within engineering organizations. While the TPM salary can be lower than an engineer's salary, it is still a technical role and often considered under technical job profiles, leveling and compensation bands. Entry level TPM roles are not common which is great for an experienced engineer as they do not have to start at the bottom.

What experience is required to become a TPM?

Is TPM a good career choice?

What is the difference between TPM and engineering manager?

What is TPM and what is its role?

How do I train to be a TPM?

Why would someone want to transition from engineering to TPM?

How can someone assess if a career in TPM is the right fit for them?

What are some common challenges faced by engineers transitioning into TPM roles, and how can they be overcome?

Are there any specific training or certification programs recommended for aspiring TPMs?

Can you provide examples of typical day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of a TPM?

How important is networking and building relationships in transitioning to a TPM role?

1,694 views0 comments


bottom of page