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Cruise Technical Program Manager Interview Guide

Interview Guide Jul 20

Detailed, specific guidance on the Cruise Technical Program Manager interview process. Curated with the help of Senior and Staff TPMs at Cruise; with breakdowns of each interview stage, expectations from candidates, practice interview questions and tips to succeed.

The role of a Cruise Technical Program Manager

Cruise actively seeks super high impact folks to join their team as Technical Program Managers. The company is at the forefront of self-driving technology and is redefining transportation - both how it works and how its perceived.

A Technical Program Manager at Cruise is responsible for driving the end-to-end development of the company's self-driving vehicle platform. This encompasses overseeing critical aspects such as base vehicle hardware and software, autonomous driving capabilities, and the implementation of new product features across different next-generation Cruise platforms. As with most TPM roles, you'd be the glue tying large initiatives together - and the Cruise interview process is designed to understand if you can succeed in this mandate.

The average total compensation for the TPM role at Cruise is $451,057, which includes a base salary of $214,571, a yearly stock grant of $158,143, and a bonus of $78,343.

Cruise Technical Program Manager Interview Guide

The Cruise Technical Program Manager (TPM) interview process typically consists of three main stages:

  • 2 Phone Screens 
  • On-site Panel (with up to 6 team members & stakeholders)
Relevant Guides

Cruise: Phone Screens

Overview

The first phone screening interview is conducted by a recruiter; it basically involves a discussion of your resume and the TPM role in further detail. The recruiter will ask questions about your basic qualifications, relevant experience, and try to gauge your interest in the position.

The second phone screen is with either a Hiring Manager or another TPM, and covers a range of topics including technical concepts, project management, and coding. Questions in this round focus on the unique aspects of being a Technical Program Manager at Cruise, such as the autonomous driving industry, system design challenges, and the coordination of cross-functional teams.

These interviews are essentially designed to assess your overall candidature, your ability to handle the responsibilities of a TPM—based on which the interviewer will assess your suitability for further rounds. 

Interview Questions

  • What interests you about the TPM role at Cruise?
  • Can you provide examples of your experience managing complex technical projects and teams?
  • How familiar are you with the autonomous driving industry and the challenges it presents to TPMs?
  • How would you approach managing a complex project with multiple stakeholders and tight deadlines?
  • Can you explain a time when you had to make trade-offs between project scope, timeline, and resources?
  • How would you design a system to handle a high volume of data with real-time processing requirements?
  • Have you worked on system design for autonomous driving or similar technologies? Can you explain the challenges you encountered and how you addressed them?

Cruise TPM Onsite Interviews

Overview

If you successfully pass the phone interview, you will be invited for an on-site panel interview. This stage typically involves meeting with a panel of up to six team members (TPMs, engineers, product managers), and stakeholders from Cruise. 

There are 2 main rounds:

  • Technical Interview
  • System Design
  • Technical (Theoretical) Interview
  • Program Management Interview
  • Behavioral Interview

Behavioral Interview

This part of the interview process is an excellent opportunity to show your ability to work harmoniously with others and proactively address potential issues before they arise. Here, interviewers are particularly interested in understanding your working style and the impact you have made in previous program management roles.

Therefore, you can expect to encounter classic questions that delve into your past experiences in program management. For instance, they might ask you about troubleshooting program bottlenecks. In such a scenario, you should share an experience where you encountered a significant challenge and effectively resolved it. Emphasize the steps you took, the strategies you employed (focus on your collaboration and problem-solving abilities), and the positive outcomes that resulted from your actions. 

You may also encounter questions about past qualifications. For instance, if you're coming from a mechanical engineering field, you may be asked "How does your experience in mechanical engineering for industry facilities translate to hardware for self driving cars?"

The idea is to have specific examples that highlight your expertise in various areas, whether it is troubleshooting program bottlenecks, resolving conflicts, managing cross-functional teams, or negotiating with engineers on design components, and so on.

Example questions for the behavioral interview may include:

  • Can you describe a time when you encountered a significant program bottleneck and how you resolved it?
  • Tell me about a situation where you had to manage conflicts within a cross-functional team and how you successfully resolved them.
  • How have you negotiated design components with engineers to ensure alignment between product requirements and technical feasibility?
  • Can you share an example of a program you managed that faced changing requirements, and how you adapted the program to meet the new demands?
  • Describe a time when you demonstrated strong leadership skills in managing a diverse cross-functional team towards a common goal.

Technical Interview

The technical interview for the Cruise TPM position comprises two main components: the system design interview and the theoretical interview. 

Technical (Theoretical) Round

During the theoretical round, the depth of your technical knowledge will be assessed, as well as your ability to effectively communicate complex concepts to both technical and non-technical stakeholders.

Commonly asked questions include "Explain X technical concept" or “explain how the internet works” —make sure to prepare for them.

Although coding questions are relatively uncommon in TPM interviews, some candidates have reported encountering coding rounds, especially if they are transitioning from an engineering role to a TPM position. In these cases, you might be asked to write functional code or provide pseudocode, depending on the interviewer's preference. It's worth noting that the coding questions in TPM interviews at Cruise are typically easier compared to the more challenging Leetcode-style questions often encountered in software engineering interviews at companies like Meta, Amazon, or Google. Instead, the focus may be more on your previous project and program experience or specific products, such as rideshare services.

Here are some example questions that you may encounter during the technical interview:

  • Explain the concept of sensor fusion in the context of self-driving vehicles and its importance.
  • Describe the different levels of autonomy in autonomous driving and the technical challenges associated with each level.
  • How does machine learning play a role in autonomous vehicle perception and decision-making?
  • Discuss the trade-offs between different data storage and processing technologies in the context of handling large-scale sensor data in autonomous driving.
  • What happens when you enter a URL in your browser?
  • Explain the working of autonomous vehicles?

Here are two tips to prepare for the technical round:

  • Familiarize yourself with relevant system design principles and industry-specific knowledge related to autonomous driving and ride-sharing. 
  • Think of your previous experiences and the technical aspects of your work that can help position you as a strong candidate for the TPM role. 
System Design

The system design interview is designed to assess your technical knowledge and see how well you can explain architecture concepts. Typically, you can encounter two types of questions here: those related to systems you've worked on before or designing a brand-new system.

For example, one question might be "Design a ride-sharing app" or "Design Facebook". The idea is to test how well you can analyze and propose system designs that address scalability, reliability, and potential trade-offs, and performance considerations.

This round is typically complex and develops over a period of 30-45 minutes, so it's best to use a framework to answer system design questions. 

Example system design interview questions for a Cruise TPM role may include:

  • Can you describe the architecture of a distributed messaging system you have previously worked on?
  • How would you design a recommendation system for a ride-sharing platform like Cruise, considering factors such as personalization, scalability, and real-time updates?
  • Design Twitter.
  • Walk me through the design considerations for building a scalable infrastructure to handle a high volume of ride requests in a rideshare service.
  • How would you approach optimizing the communication between multiple autonomous vehicles to ensure efficient coordination and decision-making?

Here are a few tips for this round:

  • Ask for clarification to understand the interviewer's expectations and system constraints. For example,
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  • Estimate metrics and outline key components, such as APIs and database choices. For instance, estimate the average number of active users for the ride-sharing app, the number of ride requests the app receives, etc. 
  • Identify potential bottlenecks and explore specific components. For example, discuss how you would optimize the communication between multiple autonomous vehicles.
  • Finally, bring all these above aspects together. See if your solution addresses the bottlenecks and fulfills the goals discussed earlier in the interview. 
Program Management

Program Managers are typically exceptional in planning, prioritization, and project delivery. Evidently, at this stage of the interview, your interviewer will look to assess your ability to think comprehensively about programs, whilst considering aspects such as resources, risks involved, managing stakeholders expectations, costs, deadlines, etc. Therefore, a track record of effective execution is essential.

You can expect the majority of the questions to be hypothetical in nature. Which means, rather than talking about past experiences, your focus should be on your future actions and strategies in handling program management from end-to-end. For example, "I would do "this" or "that" to manage programs effectively..."

Example questions for the program management interview include:

  • How would you approach managing a program that involves multiple stakeholders with conflicting priorities and limited resources?
  • Suppose you encounter a significant roadblock during program execution. How would you navigate this situation and ensure project delivery stays on track?
  • If you were given the responsibility of launching a new product within a tight timeline, how would you plan and coordinate the necessary activities to ensure a successful launch?
  • Can you describe a complex program you have managed in the past, and the strategies you employed to mitigate risks and ensure timely delivery?
  • Imagine you are responsible for overseeing a program that spans across different teams and time zones. How would you ensure effective communication and collaboration between team members to achieve program goals?

Cruise Technical Program Manager Roles and Responsibilities

  • As a Cruise TPM, you'll collaborate with cross-functional teams to align key Cruise Vehicle programs with business objectives.
  • You'll be responsible for developing and executing comprehensive program plans for new Cruise vehicle platforms.
  • You'll monitor and report on program progress to cross-functional teams and executive forums.
  • You'll proactively identify and mitigate issues and risks, working with diverse teams to ensure program success.
  • You'll drive scope and design changes while balancing short-term improvements and long-term solutions.
  • You'll resolve challenges across various areas, including base vehicle hardware/software, sensors, performance, networking, AV software, and embedded systems.
  • You’ll partner with testing teams to enhance subsystem and component testing processes.
  • You'll foster effective working relationships with multi-organizational and multi-functional groups, both internally and externally.

Cruise Technical Program Manager Skills and Qualifications

  • A Bachelor's degree in Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, or equivalent experience is a prerequisite.
  • You will be expected to have extensive hands-on experience of over 15 years in Technical Program Management, successfully implementing complex integrated hardware/software products in industries such as automotive, robotics, consumer electronics, or aerospace.
  • For this role, you'll also require a minimum of 6 years of direct involvement as a systems, hardware, and/or software engineer, demonstrating proficiency in developing and managing intricate and integrated hardware and software systems.
  • Strong expertise in leading hardware and software process development and implementation is essential. You'll need a comprehensive understanding of both waterfall and Agile environments and the ability to effectively bridge between these methodologies.
  • Valuable experience in the development or participation in end-to-end robotics or automotive systems is highly desired.