A Software Engineer's Path to Financial Independence and Early Retirement (FIRE)

Interview preparation Tech Careers

How to Prepare for Technical Program Manager Interviews

How to Prepare for Technical Program Manager (TPM) Interviews

Disclosure: This post might contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.

The goal of this post is to explain how to prepare for Technical Program Manager interviews. I will give an overview of the interview structure, dive deep into the 6 evaluation areas, and provide resources for mock interviews.

This is part of a mini-series of posts related to career development. The other related posts are:

  1. Interview Preparation Guides
  2. Role-specific information
How To Prepare For Technical Program Manager Interviews: Overview


A typical job interview for high-tech companies consists of 2 rounds:

  1. Phone screen (45 minutes): The interviewer either calls the interviewee via phone or uses a Communications app (e.g. Skype, Zoom, etc). The interviewer needs to ask a wide range of questions, in order to determine:
    • if it’s worth inviting the interviewee for an onsite interview, based on his experience and knowledge
    • the appropriate level of the interviewee (e.g. entry-level, senior, etc)
  2. Onsite interview (4-5 interviews, 45 minutes each): The interviewee visits the company’s offices and talks to the interviewers face-to-face

The interviewee is evaluated in the following 6 areas:

  1. Project Management: How well can the interviewee plan, organize, and execute a project, as well as create, manage, and improve business processes?
  2. Domain Knowledge: Does the interviewee understand the specific requirements for the domain that he’s been interviewed at, e.g. the Software Product Lifecycle and the Software Development Methodologies (for TPMs working in Software products) or the Hardware Development stages, such as EVT, DVT, PVT (for TPMs working in Hardware products) or the different ML frameworks (for TPMs working in Machine Learning), etc?
  3. Technical Depth: Will the interviewee be able to have technical discussions with the engineering team and actively contribute to the technical decisions?
  4. Analytical Ability: If the interviewee is presented with an ambiguous problem, will he/she be able to show a methodical thought process (information gathering, reasonable assumptions, etc) that leads to a reasonable solution?
  5. Leadership Skills: How well can the interviewee lead, persuade, and influence the team without formal authority? 
  6. Collaboration Ability: How well can the interviewee work in teams?

For each of the above areas, there are 3 types of questions:

  1. Behavioral questions:
    • They are open-ended questions about how the interviewee handled a specific situation in the past.
    • They start with “Tell me about a time, when …”. 
    • E.g. “Tell me about a time when you faced pushback from the engineers in a project that you were leading. How did you handle it?”.
    • These types of questions are best answered using the SCRIPT framework, which I explain below
  2. Hypothetical questions: 
    • The interviewer presents a hypothetical scenario and asks the interviewee how he/she would handle it
    • E.g. “Your team is about to launch a very high-profile project tomorrow and you just found out a very critical bug. What do you do?”
  3. Factual questions:
    • These questions evaluate how familiar the interviewer is with a specific topic.
    • E.g. “What is the difference between a struct and a class in C++?”

For additional information about the overall interview process, you can take a look at:

I also recommend that you take a look at the following online (paid) classes:

The remaining post dives deeper into each interview area with sample questions, preparation tips, and explanations about the evaluation criteria.

How to Prepare for Technical Program Manager (TPM) Interviews - Project Management

Project Management Questions

Sample Questions

  1. Behavioral
    1. Tell me about a complicated project that you led and was very successful (or failed)
    2. Tell me about a time when the project requirements changed drastically in the middle of the project. How did you avoid scope creep?
    3. What project management tools do you use to manage a project?
  2. Hypothetical
    1. Project Structure
      1. You are the new TPM for our new product <X>. Tell me how you will structure the project
      2. Imagine that your team is working on v2 of your product. Tell me how you will build a detailed project plan
    2. Change Management
      1. You have 5 features that you want to implement for an upcoming product, but you only have resources for 2. What do you do?
      2. One of your dependent teams informed you that they will need to delay their release by 2 months. What do you do?
      3. You are working with a team of 5 developers, but the key developer in that team announced today that they are changing teams/companies. What do you do?

Interview Preparation

  • In order to answer all the above questions:
    • you need to understand all aspects of program managementin depth. In addition, you need to be able to incorporate in your stories/answers best practicesfor all the important areas that are managed by the TPM, including:
      1. Key Stakeholders
      2. Scope (including how you avoid scope creep)
      3. Time management
      4. Resources (including software developers from the project team and different teams, as well as marketing, finance, legal, privacy, security, documentation etc)
      5. Communications
      6. Risk Management
      7. Cost (including any budget constraints)
      8. Quality control
  • For hypothetical questions:
    • Related to structuring a project: Read the post “What Does A Technical Program Manager (TPM) Do? A Practical Guide” to understand how to structure a program using all the above elements
    • Related to change management: use the following 4 steps
      1. Understand what caused the change, e.g. why did the dependent team de-commit?
      2. Try to revert the change, e.g. can we convince them to drop a different project and keep support for our project?
      3. Discuss the tradeoffs between scope, time, and resources, e.g. if we cannot get any more resources or change the scope, then we’ll have to delay the product launch
      4. Talk about the risk for each tradeoff, e.g. if we decide to add more software engineers to a project then this might lead to additional delays due to ramp-up times
  • As a quick refresher, it could be useful to audit a free/cheap online class that covers the material for to PMP (Project Management Professional) exam. The goal is not to remember all the details, in order to take the actual exam (most high-tech companiesdon’t value the PMP credential anyway), but to be able to refresh your knowledge regarding all areas mentioned above. A couple of great examples:
  • In addition, you should understand the Agile methodology, such as how a project is structured into themes, initiatives, epics, and stories, as well as the differences between Kanban and Scrum
  • Ace the Technical Program Manager Interview by Mario Gerard: Provides answers to 100+ TPM interview questions related to project management, Agile/Scrum, and system design
  • Complete TPM Interview Course in Exponent: Provides a methodology on how to answer Program Sense questions

Evaluation Criteria

  • Project size and impact: The size and the complexity of the projects that you discuss (i.e. how many people are involved, how many teams, impact, visibility to the leadership team, etc) are an indicator of the TPM’s experience, which directly affects the seniority level for the interviews (e.g. whether the interviewee will be evaluated for entry-level roles, senior, etc).
  • Execution: Create project plan, monitor the execution of the project, identify risks, deal with ambiguity, and handle changes in scope/time/resources/budget successfully
  • Communication: Create a communication plan to keep all stakeholders informed about the project progress and risks.
How to Prepare for Technical Program Manager (TPM) Interviews - Technical Depth

Technical Depth Questions

The goal of the technical interview questions is to evaluate whether an interviewee has the technical knowledge to actively participate in technical discussions with Software Engineers. TPMs do not need to write code in their jobs, so there are no coding questions during the TPM interviews.

Sample Questions

There are 2 types of questions that are typically asked during these interviews:

  1. Previous project: Show me the detailed design of a complicated technical project that you worked in the past
  2. System Design questions: How would you design Twitter/Uber/Facebook Messenger/etc

Interview Preparation

  • Past experience: You should select complicated successful projects that you worked on in the past and prepare the design diagram, think about important design decisions that were made, and prepare to talk about design tradeoffs
  • System Design questions: I have provided a detailed guide for System Design questions in my post “How to Prepare for Software Engineering Interviews

Evaluation Criteria

  • System design skills: Follow an organized approach to design complicated systems at scale (gather requirements, suggest solutions, discuss bottlenecks and tradeoffs, etc).
  • Communication skills: Clearly communicate the approach and tradeoffs and showcase your technical expertise using design diagrams, interaction diagrams, etc
How to Prepare for Technical Program Manager (TPM) Interviews - Domain Knowledge

Domain Knowledge Questions

This area is highly dependent on the projects that the TPM will be working on. For example, the questions to test somebody’s knowledge about Machine Learning would be totally different than those for Hardware or Embedded Systems. 

Sample Questions

  1. Behavioral
    1. Tell me about a time when you managed a project using Agile methodologies
    2. Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with a developer about a technical aspect of the project
    3. Tell me about a time when you faced an important technical problem that had the potential to delay your project launch date
  2. Hypothetical
    1. You are tasked to remove a specific C++ library from the company’s internal source depot. It’s unclear how many existing projects are using it. What would you do?
    2. You just found out that one team is using PII (Personally Identifiable Information) data to perform an action, for which the user has not provided consent. What do you do?
    3. You believe that your engineering team would benefit if you transitioned to Scrum, but your engineering manager disagrees. What do you do?
  3. Factual
    1. What happens when you type “www.google.com” in your browser?
    2. What is the CAP theorem?
    3. How does a search engine work?

Interview Preparation

  • You need to understand the domain that you’ll be working on in depth. This means that if you want to work with Machine Learning, then you should search for Machine Learning resources, whereas if you’re working with embedded systems then your list would be quite different.
  • Divya Dhar wrote a great blog post on Medium with details on how she prepared for the Technical Round before her interviews at Google. This is a great preparation list.
  • Be prepared to talk about any technology or programming language that you wrote in your resume (you will not need to do any coding)

Evaluation Criteria

  • Technical fluency: Making sure that the interviewee can actively contribute to technical discussions (e.g. design reviews, etc) with other engineers in the team
How to Prepare for Technical Program Manager (TPM) Interviews - Analytical Ability

Analytical Ability Questions

The goal of these questions is to evaluate your problem-solving skills and your communication skills.

Sample Questions

  1. Estimations
    1. How much additional storage will YouTube need to store the videos that will be uploaded during the next calendar year?
    2. How much money did Facebook make from ads last year?
    3. How many iPhones were sold in the US last year?
  2. Hypothetical/Troubleshooting
    1. You were just notified that in the latest build of the Chrome browser, there is a huge performance difference between the Windows and Linux versions. What do you do?
    2. The latest prototypes of your H/W devices are overheating. What do you do?
    3. Your ML model is behaving very differently between the training data set and the production data set. What do you do?

Interview Preparation

  • Estimations
    • Three main ways to do these calculations
      • Top-down: Start with a big number (US population or total users of Gmail/YouTube/Facebook, etc) and make assumptions that lead you to a smaller number
      • Bottoms up: Start with a small number (e.g. number of people you know that have an iPhone) and make assumptions that lead you to a larger number
      • Relative calculations: Find how many users/buyers/customers are there in a city and then extrapolate to the US/World
    • Methodology
      1. Ask clarifying questions to understand the problem
      2. Show your equations, even before using any numbers
      3. Add round numbers (using logical assumptions), do the calculations, and round any intermediate results
      4. Verify that the final number looks logical (e.g. if you calculate that Facebook’s annual revenues from ads are $1M, then you are way off, but if you calculate that it’s $50B then this looks like a plausible number)
    • Resources:
  • Hypothetical/Troubleshooting
    • In these types of questions, you are presented with a specific problem and you need to show a methodical way of solving it
    • Learn how to use a framework for Root Cause Analysis

Evaluation Criteria

  • Organized thought process for complex problems: Understand the initial ambiguous problem by gathering enough information and follow an organized approach that leads to well-thought solutions
  • Communication skills: Communicating ideas clearly, including any underlying assumptions
How to Prepare for Technical Program Manager (TPM) Interviews - Leadership

Leadership Questions

Sample Questions

  1. Behavioral
    1. Tell me about a time when you led a group
    2. Tell me about a time when you worked with a diverse team
    3. Tell me about a time when you faced an ethical dilemma as part of a project that you were working on
    4. Tell me about a time when you led an organizational change. What did you do?
    5. Tell me about a manager that you really liked working with. What was he/she like?
  2. Hypothetical
    1. You got assigned to a new team that keeps missing their milestones. What do you do?
    2. You just came out of a meeting where there was a heated discussion between two teammates, who had vastly different opinions about the next steps for a specific approach. What do you do?
    3. You were just assigned to a project, but your manager had to take some time off due to a family emergency before he/she could give you more details about the project. What do you do?

Interview Preparation

  • Think about 1-2 projects, where you led a team without authority and use the SCRIPT framework to answer the behavioral questions
  • Make sure that your answers to these questions score highly based on the evaluation criteria below

Evaluation Criteria

  • Leading without authority: Influencing important stakeholders, who might be higher up in the hierarchy. Show leadership for multiple cross-functional teams
  • Initiative: Driving changes for improvement, challenging existing status quo
How to Prepare for Technical Program Manager (TPM) Interviews - Analytical Ability

Collaboration Ability Questions

Sample questions

  1. Behavioral
    1. Tell me about a time when somebody disagreed with a decision that you made. What did you do?
    2. Tell me about a time when you mentored a coworker
    3. Tell me about a time when you worked with a diverse team
  2. Hypothetical
    1. One of your coworkers is struggling to keep up with his deadlines. What do you do?
    2. Your manager made a project-related decision that you disagree with. What do you do?
    3. You notice that your engineering manager has very different opinions than you regarding the priority of a specific project. What do you do?

Interview Preparation

  • Think about 1-2 projects, where you worked with a team and use the SCRIPT framework to answer the behavioral questions
  • Make sure that your answers to these questions score highly based on the evaluation criteria below

Evaluation Criteria

  • Working well with your team members: Helping teammates when needed, actively listening to problems, fostering a great team spirit, helping team bond
  • Feedback: Providing and receiving feedback without issues
  • Conflict resolution: Fosters dialog and understanding of people’s needs
How to Prepare for Technical Program Manager (TPM) Interviews - How to Answer Behavioral Questions Using the STAR Framework

How to Answer Behavioral Questions Using the SCRIPT Framework

The most common framework to answer behavioral questions is the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) framework. However, I believe that his framework is not enough. As I explain in my blog post STAR is Not Enough: Tips For Behavioral Interview Questions, I recommend that you use the SCRIPT framework.

  1. S: Story Title
    1. Begin with a captivating title for your story to grab attention and set the tone for your narrative.
  2. C: Context Explanation
    1. Detail the context, including the project, the team members involved, and the important task at hand, ensuring you paint a vivid picture of the situation.
  3. R: Role Definition
    1. Clearly define your role in the scenario, highlighting your job description, leadership skills, and how you contributed as a team player.
  4. I: Issue Identification
    1. Identify 3 specific problems you encountered, like a tough decision or a challenging situation under a lot of pressure.
  5. P: Problem-solving Actions
    1. Describe 3 actions you took to address each problem, emphasizing your time management skills and your approach in similar situations.
  6. T: Tangible Outcomes
    1. Conclude with the positive outcomes of your actions, such as meeting a tight deadline or achieving better results, showcasing your ability to handle stressful situations.

Sample Answer using the SCRIPT Framework

To demonstrate how the SCRIPT framework can be applied, we need to look at specific examples.

Let’s take the question “Tell me about a time you faced a difficult problem at work. How did you solve it?” and a sample answer using SCRIPT:

  • S (Story Title): “The Integration Challenge”
  • C (Context Explanation): In my previous role as a Technical Program Manager, we encountered a significant hurdle during a major system integration project, which involved coordinating multiple teams and aligning different technology stacks.
  • R (Role Definition): My role was to oversee the project, ensuring seamless integration across all platforms while keeping the project on schedule.
  • I (Issue Identification):
    1. Cross-Team Coordination Issues: There were communication breakdowns between different teams, affecting project cohesion.
    2. Technical Misalignments: Differing technology stacks across teams posed integration challenges.
    3. Strict Deadlines: We were operating under a very tight deadline, adding pressure to resolve issues swiftly.
  • P (Problem-solving Actions):
    1. Facilitated Communication: I initiated regular cross-team meetings to enhance collaboration and address communication gaps.
    2. Technical Solutions and Compromises: Worked closely with technical leads to find middle-ground solutions for technology stack integration.
    3. Deadline Management: Reassessed and adjusted project timelines where feasible, negotiating for extra time to ensure quality integration.
  • T (Tangible Outcomes): The project was successfully completed with effective integration across all platforms. The improved communication strategy led to better team collaboration in future projects, and meeting the revised deadlines bolstered our team’s reputation for flexibility and problem-solving under pressure.

 To get a better idea about SCRIPT, take a look at my blog post: STAR is Not Enough: Tips For Behavioral Interview Questions.

Please note the following:

  • Prepare 5-10 practice questions and write down answers using the SCRIPT framework before the interview (in a text file, on paper, etc). These hours of preparation will save you a lot of headaches during the interviews
  • Your answers should not be longer than 2 minutes
  • Remember to use “I” instead of “we” in your answer, because the interviewer is interested in the actions that you took and not in what the team did

You can find lots of resources about these questions on the internet (also check YouTube), so I won’t go deeper into these questions. Here are some good links to start with:

How to Prepare for Technical Program Manager (TPM) Interviews - Mock Interviews

Mock Interviews

After going through all the materials above and getting ready to start the interview process, it is always helpful to get some feedback in a low-stress environment. Mock interviews help you test your knowledge and get feedback from another person.

Here is how you can find interviewers for mock interviews:

  • Pramp.com (free): This website connects you with other peers, who are also studying for interviews so that you can all learn together
  • ThePmInterview (free): This site presents you with random questions and has a timer so that you can practice your answer. It is a great way to practice General, Behavioral, and Estimation questions (you can select them using the filter on the right side of the screen), but there is no feedback for your answers
  • Mario Gerard (paid): Mario is a Principal TPM at Oracle. He conducts:
  • Exponent: This site has 3 options for mock interviews:
    • Peer interviews (1 free, rest are paid): Every day at 6pm PST, you can be matched with another person doing PM interviews, so that you can practice together
    • Top TPM Interview Questions (free): This is a list of the top TPM interview questions that are asked by top companies. You can see how other peers answer these questions or you can answer them yourself and get feedback
    • Mock interviews (paid): You can select mock interviews from a list of experienced Technical Program Managers in the top tech companies
  • Use your network: You can talk to other developers that you know (either from your own company, via LinkedIn, etc) and ask them to do a mock interview for you

Salary negotiations after a job offer

Did you get a job offer and you want to maximize the compensation that you are being offered? If so, then you have 2 main ways:

  1. Ask for the help of a professional
  2. Do It Yourself (DIY)
How To Prepare For Technical Program Manager Interviews: Conclusion


When preparing for your technical program manager interview, it’s essential to demonstrate a comprehensive grasp of technical projects and their alignment with strategic goals. Your role as a technical program manager extends beyond just managing complex projects; it involves proactive program management, foreseeing potential risks, and ensuring continuous improvement. Highlight your experiences using the SCRIPT framework (which is an improved version of the STAR method), focusing on difficult situations where your effective communication and contingency plans were pivotal. Reflect on a recent project where your approach positively impacted customer satisfaction, showcasing your skills in steering the technical team towards the overall goal of the technical program manager position.

Your technical skills, developed through managing diverse technical programs and teams, are crucial. However, your ability to anticipate and navigate potential problems is equally important. Consider how you’ve addressed poor communication or adapted your strategies to meet the demands of this critical role. Technical program manager interview questions often probe into these areas, assessing your capacity to blend technical expertise with the best practices in program management.

In your current role, think about how you’ve collaborated with technical project managers and how this has shaped your approach to technical programs. Discuss the biggest challenges you’ve faced and how you transformed them into opportunities for growth. This narrative is not just about answering project manager interview questions; it’s about demonstrating your capability as a successful program manager who understands the importance of asking the right questions, maintaining regular meetings, and guiding the team toward the final product in line with strategic objectives.

Lastly, consider your previous experience and how it prepares you for the technical program manager role. Emphasize the importance of an open communication style, a good idea in any technical environment. Your experience in handling common questions and technical explanation questions, along with your management style, should convey your readiness for the role. Explain how, in your past projects, you’ve dealt with technical challenges and used a proactive approach to ensure the success of the program. This not only addresses the typical technical program manager interview questions but also positions you as an adaptable and knowledgeable candidate ready to take on the responsibilities of this important skill. 

About Me

I am an engineer with 15+ years in the tech industry, including roles at Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. I've been a Software Engineer, Product Manager, and Technical Program Manager. I also have an MBA from Kellogg School of Management with Majors in Finance and Marketing.

What drives me? A passion for empowering engineers to achieve Financial Independence and Retire Early (FIRE). I reached FIRE, when I turned 40 years old. Whether it's through personal finance strategies or career insights, I'm here to guide you on this path. Have questions or need advice? Feel free to reach out!

My Newsletter


  1. Basically a good structure. Like parent – child. This look like too much of content. May be indexing at top will help. I am not expert how to do it but this is a feedback as a user. May be use and copy structure from a professional content writer blog.

    1. Thanks, Sachin.

      Could you clarify what you mean with good UX? Are you talking specifically about how the post is organized? How to find the posts inside the blog? Something about the theme?

  2. Nice work FIRE man! Really appreciate the awesome interview tips you shared.
    I found you from Blind and shocked by your exp.
    Will keep following your post. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *