Role-related Knowledge and Experience - Google TPM Interview

What are the skills, role-related knowledge and experience levels required to nail a Google TPM interview? Let's find out. 

 · 9 minutes

With organizations increasingly directing their efforts into building visionary engineering solutions and making great leaps in tech, a unique combination of a project and program manager is gaining prominence in the industry — Technical Program Manager (TPM). Despite being a relatively new job role, one that didn't exist until a few years ago, TPMs today have established unparalleled significance in driving technical excellence. 

Almost every top tech company like Google, Amazon, and Facebook recruits TPMs and pays them top bucks to lead complex technical projects to execution. A Technical Program Manager at Google earns an average salary of $142,956 per year. TPMs at senior levels can earn up to  $185k per year, not including stock options and bonuses. As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field is expected to grow 10% by 2029. 

Evidently, now is a good time as any to consider a career in technical project management. But how can you become a TPM at Google? What are the skills, role-related knowledge and experience levels required to nail a Google TPM interview? Let's find out. 

TPM Role at Google - What is it?

Technical Program Managers carry out the distinct responsibilities of technical architects and program managers; as software architects, they oversee groups of projects or a "program" from initiation to execution, and as program managers, they facilitate coordination across cross-functional teams through effective schedules and actionable plans to ensure successful project delivery.

To be able to do so, a TPM requires in-depth technical knowledge to understand underlying software functionality. In addition to this, they should be aware of management methodologies and possess expert communication skills to effectively interact with disparate teams and motivate them towards common goals. 

Here's understanding the responsibilities of a Technical Program Manager

  • Technical program managers (TPMs) oversee the project development cycle right from ideation to launch and delivery.
  • They devise strategies and plans to ensure successful and timely completion of projects within the allocated budget. 
  • They review and test codes to identify technical issues in a program, and provide proactive solutions to resolve them.
  • They ensure optimal usage of company resources and keep various teams apprised of project developments. 
  • They conduct risk assessments and propose solutions to manage potential bottlenecks and quality concerns during the course of a program.
  • They keep cross-functional teams motivated to achieve program goals through their leadership skills.

Technical program management is an extremely challenging role, to say the least, but it is also rewarding and progressive in the long run. For this reason, the evolution and growth of TPMs has been significant in recent years. Especially at companies like Google that have TPMs guiding ambitious projects like YouTube, Search, and Android, among others. As a result, very few software engineers succeed in landing a TPM role at Google. 

Google TPM Interview - Different Stages

There are three stages to a technical program manager interview at Google. This includes one phone interview with a recruiter, up to two phone interviews with Google TPMs, and finally, up to 5 onsite interviews with several Google TPMs.  

The interview sessions are broadly classified to cover three primary skills: 

  1. Program management skills
  2. Technical competence
  3. Leadership, behavioural and situational skills

Google TPM interviews are largely centered around role-related knowledge and experience to get insight into a candidate's technical abilities and program management sense. Questions are asked to evaluate your calibre in these key areas. This includes knowledge of data structures, system design and architecture, and algorithms, people-oriented skills, expertise in Agile methodologies and scrum management principles, among others.

For each of your answers, Google has a feedback form with the attributes they are looking for in a candidate. These include:

  1. GCA or General Cognitive Ability
  2. Role Related Competence/Knowledge
  3. Leadership track record and traits
  4. Googleyness (how good a fit you are for Google's environment)

All your answers are graded as per these standards, which eventually determine your success. 

Technical Part of Role-related Knowledge and Experience

Technical questions are designed to ascertain your program sense and technical base. They are typically based on system design and architecture, database choices, data structures, technical decision-making, CDNs, tradeoff, caching, mathematics, operating systems, etc. 

Interviewers will also judge your coding skills, although questions in this scenario are relatively easy when compared to software engineering interviews.

In terms of educational qualifications, ideally you should possess a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field to be well-versed with the basics of programming. To transition into a management role, you should have a minimum of 5 years of work experience in a related information technology occupation. This includes autonomous roles where you had decision-making authority and management responsibilities. 

Beyond that, your success is largely dependent on how effectively you can showcase your role-related competence

For instance, if you are applying for a TPM role in the full-stack development domain, you will be expected to have in-depth knowledge of back-end and front-end technologies. Or if you are gunning for a Data Science TPM role, you should be able to answer tough questions based on programming languages like Python, databases technologies like SQL, and cloud computing platforms. This would provide insight into your data analysis skills and position you as an expert in making data-driven decisions. 

Similarly, TPMs with experience in software development or machine learning, business intelligence, or hardware engineering should have knowledge of their respective domains. 

When it comes to system design, interviewers expect you to deep-dive into system design decisions and explain why you chose architecture A over architecture B in your previous ventures. Here, you need to demonstrate that you can engage in structured system design and architecture discussions with a focus on scalability, efficiency, concurrency, durability. 

If you have listed X technologies or technical skills on your resume, you must be prepared with answers to some tough questions based on them. It also helps if aspiring TPMs are aware of the latest trends in technologies.

Here's a list of the most frequently asked technical questions to judge your technical knowledge:

  1. What do you consider to be your technical area of expertise?
  2. You've mentioned X technology on your resume. Describe it like you would to a a beginner? 
  3. Explain the process of building a global system to upgrade the software on a fleet of machines.
  4. Explain how you would deploy a cloud computing solution to enable redundancy in a compute cluster.
  5. How does Linux Shell respond when you try to run the 'ls' command?
  6. How is TCP protocol different from UDP? When should you use each of them?
  7. Explain the process of designing a server infrastructure for Gmail.
  8. What is the UDP packet size?
  9. We have a CSV file. Explain how you would parse all lines using a given string?
  10. How is a web cache designed?
  11. Given a project for the replacement of discs for a data center, how would you manage it? 
  12. If you hit enter on a browser until the page gets reloaded, what will happen? 
  13. Explain a UNIX file system.
  14. Given 'n' machines, each having a 10 GB string of characters - find the most common character.
  15. If you had to delete a file with a special character in the initial position of the first letter, how would you do it?
  16. What is Young's modulus?
  17. Describe struct, enum and union in C.
  18. How long does it take to move 100 Petabytes of data from the East Coast to the West Coast. 
  19. Do you have experience working with Cloud? 
  20. Write a program to find if an integer is a palindrome.

Non-technical Part of Role-related Knowledge and Experience

Here, the interviewer mainly wants to determine how well you can manage end-to-end projects from ideation to delivery, whether you have the necessary resourcing, prioritization and risk management skills, how well-suited you are to deal with challenges and resolve conflicts, and so on.

Even though the educational background required for TPMs is majorly unspecified, a background in business, administration and management, as well as experience in a similar previous position to showcase your management and decision-making skills can help increase your chances of success. 

If you can produce management or leadership certifications like the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification or ScrumMaster Certification, it could further work in your favour. 

Some questions you can expect are:

  1. How would you prioritize tasks when you do not have the resources to complete all of them?
  2. Describe and whiteboard a continuous deployment system as well as a continuous build system.
  3. How would you make sure that you are delivering quality in your product or service?
  4. Given a project deadline and limited resources, how would you complete the project successfully?
  5. How would you handle new requirements in the middle of a project?
  6. How would you estimate the expected work for a new project without knowing its history?
  7. How would you prepare a forecasting tool/document?
  8. What is critical path? Explain with the help of a situation
  9. How do you make trade-offs between time, resources, scope and risks?
  10. How do you define roadmap milestones and execute your projects?
  11. How do you manage risks for your projects?
  12. How do you define KPIs for your projects?
  13. How do you manage cross-team dependencies and deliverables?
  14. How would you handle performance decline in a program?
  15. How do you sunset a program?

Final Thoughts | Role-related knowledge and experience for Google TPM Role

Google is on the lookout for skilled individuals who can exceed technical and program KPIs and keep large-scale projects progressing in the right direction. Therefore, Google TPM interviews are hardly a cakewalk. Candidates have a long and difficult journey, one that often spans months, before they land a technical program management role. 

However, you can carve a niche for yourself in the technical program management discipline with the right skills and knowledge base. 

If you'd like to learn more about Google TPM interviews, you can schedule a session with Prepfully's TPM experts to gain deeper insight into the field. 

Check out: Steps to become a product manager