Do you know what it means to be a TPM at FAANG? In this article, an Interview Kickstart mentor and FAANG TPM with 8+ years of experience brings you insights from his fascinating professional journey from finance to tech, including:
- Importance of Career Planning
- Background — Academic, Finance, and Consulting
- Landing a Job at Amazon
- What Does a Technical Manager at FAANG Do?
- Final Thoughts
Importance of Career Planning
Career planning could be one of the most important and critical decisions for many people. There are a few factors that everyone considers, such as compensation, benefits, work-life balance, etc. There are also some other aspects that one may not focus much on, but they have a significant impact on our job satisfaction as well.
These include long-term career growth opportunities, your manager’s career path, company culture, the connections your job brings to you, etc. The job market has been changing all the time, and it accelerated since Covid-19, so when taking on a new job, one should establish certain principles to facilitate decision making.
Personally, I have worked in three industries for the past 8 years, including fin-tech, consulting, and currently, technology. I’d like to share my humble opinions about each industry I worked for and the people I worked with, and my thought process about a career change.
Background — Academic, Finance, and Consulting
I got my Ph.D. in Physics, which naturally put me into the analytics field when I decided to join the financial industry. I absolutely enjoyed my work with numbers and models, and it opened my eyes to learning about the sophisticated financial world.
Most importantly, the large amount of data I needed to deal with brought me into big data and technology, and ultimately machine learning. The pursuit of new knowledge was so fascinating, and I was tireless during and after work studying new fields.
The Switch to Consulting
After a few years, I grew up significantly in a few areas, including knowledge in asset management and insurance products, experience in analytics and machine learning, and working with people with different backgrounds, which led me into consulting industry in a leadership role with a focus on advanced analytics in finance.
Another reason I decided to join consulting business was to expand my professional network. A big benefit of working in consulting is the access to senior leadership across the industry. I had experience working with multiple c-suite leaders from multiple companies, which was invaluable to my long-term career growth.
However, working in the finance industry, especially in New York City, means long hours and high stress. Even though I had been paid well, I felt looking outside of finance could potentially give me more opportunities and choices.
Thus, I started talking with friends in other industries and learned about a very different culture from the west coast of the US, which is dominated by large technology companies.
Landing a Job at Amazon
It was kind of surprising to me that people in top-tier tech companies are doing 9-5 jobs while making very competitive salaries. And looking back, my peers who joined the top tech firms right after school have accumulated quite some wealth arising from the capital gain of stock vesting provided by the generous companies.
In addition, they’re working on the most cutting-edge technologies that affect everyone’s daily life, a huge sense of accomplishment for anyone working on it. All of these made me seriously think about moving into a top tech company.
The Move From Finance to Tech
I know it is a critical decision to move from finance to technology, so I analyzed more besides compensation and work-life balance, such as the appropriate role for my background, the hiring manager’s career path, and team members’ background. There are a few reasons I take all of these into my decision-making process.
First of all, to excel in a new role, one has to possess enough knowledge and enjoy the nature of the work. I thought about 3 positions when I interviewed with Amazon: software development manager, technical program manager, and science manager.
After careful consideration, I realized my background fits the latter 2 well. I had extensive experience managing projects that are heavily focused on analytics and technology, and my academic background gave me a unique advantage in data science and machine learning.
Secondly, I reached out to a few friends working at Amazon and asked for their help to find a few teams whose hiring managers had fast promotion records. My personal experience is when your manager gets promoted fast, you have a better chance to also move up quickly.
After I got a few clear targets, I started my interview preparation accordingly and got an offer fairly quickly. In the end, based on my interest in the potential projects, I decided to join a team as a Senior Technical Program Manager, and I have been enjoying my work so far.
What Does a Technical Manager Do?
Technical Program Manager (TPM) is a fun and challenging job in top-tier technology companies. As the name suggests, the job requires both technical contribution (mostly system design) and program/project management. It is mostly an individual contributor role, but it is a critical part of successful technology product/service delivery.
There are several things making the job fun at FAANG. These top-tier companies tend to solve emergent issues using cutting-edge technology. For example, during the pandemic, all large tech companies have the responsibility to validate information to ensure legitimate ones are prevalent and false ones are suppressed.
The large customer base requires the best technology to support the ultrahigh transaction volume and the most efficient operational mechanism. All of these are reflected in day-to-day work, and TPM’s job is to make sure it happens on time with high quality.
Challenges of Working at FAANG
The job is also challenging in the sense that one has to maintain good relationships across multiple teams and many stakeholders and at the same time have good intuition in technology. Good TPM needs to be able to go deep into technical design, while at the same time making quick and sound decisions.
TPMs should be good listeners and superior communicators as they influence people without authority in many situations. All of these challenges are also opportunities because one can stand out quickly when doing a great job.
Now when I reflect on my prior job, which focuses on providing analytics and technology solutions to asset management and insurance companies, it was still interesting, but the scope of enterprise software is very limited compared to consumer software due to the small customer base.
Therefore, I’m certain that moving into Amazon as a senior TPM is a good decision for me. Professionally, my position has a good exposure to senior leadership, from which I can learn a lot beyond the work itself.
Personally, I have a strong interest in a highly distributed system that serves hundreds of millions of people across the globe. The transition from quantity to quality is fascinating. It opens a new door for me, and my career is much wider from here on.
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