Am I interpreting "Technical PM" incorrectly?

My most recent interview was the worst I’ve ever had. My expectations for the interview were that it would be a role for managing a technical product (defining needs/features, coordinating across teams, etc.), with the ability to step in and help out with technical skills as needed and generally have an understanding of the technical side of the product (structure, capabilities, etc.).

According to the interview, it appears like they are looking for someone to oversee production and development while assisting the product director by creating roadmaps and doing interviews on the side.

Has anyone else experienced this? Am I misinterpreting what Technical PM is supposed to be?

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Every company has a different definition of Technical Product Manager. What this company described is more typically called a “Technical Program Manager”. However, your results may vary.

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Have you had a startup job interview? The limitations and responsibilities of any function become a little hazy if that is the case. They might be seeking for a product-focused engineering manager.

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Although I believe that “Technical PM” is a stupid job title with no accepted definition, the way the organization is using it is flagrantly incorrect.

These positions are typically exactly what you wrote: lowercase-t technical project management positions, as in project management positions where technical abilities are required or advantageous. A technical PM typically has subject-matter experience in technical skills (often generic), while a compliance PM may have subject-matter expertise in compliance, a development PM may have subject-matter expertise in driving growth, etc. While most organizations do not have “Compliance PM” as a separate job title from “PM” (Growth…don’t get t me started), they are still a PM.

I truly don’t know what to call the position you mentioned; it sounds like an extremely vague assistant position that some knucklehead who only wants a PM title will accept and struggle to gain transferrable experience in would take.

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I appreciate your detailed response @NathanEndicott, because the recruiting manager’s comments made me wonder whether I was considering the correct positions given how much they emphasized technical abilities.

The way you described technical PM is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I can write code, but I’m not a software engineer, and I have no intention of claiming to be one. Rather, my area of expertise is product development, design thinking, lifecycles, and similar topics, not the most effective way to structure software. The same is true for data science and data engineering.

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‘Stupid job title’ is a little aggressive.

There are certain roles that need insane tech understanding to push any features.

For eg. In a consumer company like say Spotify, the pm who manages search feature should have thorough technical understanding of how ranking happens, what are the different methods used in increasing search relevance, how should the weights be shifted to allow new hits to be ranked higher.

If the guy managing the engineers is a non tech guy, the whole search experience will go down to support business requirements.

Consider products like AWS beanstalk or EC2 or S3 services, these are things mostly hardcore technical guys will be able to ideate around.

So yeah, technical PMs are meant to support and drive tech initiatives in the company.

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You can achieve the same thing with a comma or dash and the area of focus the role is for.

It’s pretty easy to tell that a “Product Manager, Platform” job is going to be more technical than a “Product Manager, Onboarding Experience” job.

Ditto with the actual product you’re working on. Everyone knows that you’re going to need a bit more technical understanding at an API product company vs a Functional SaaS app.

There’s 0 need to put “Technical” before the PM job title. Don’t even get me started on the nonsense that is “Product Owner”.

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Except the way many HR departments work, if you want to pay someone more than someone else, you need to give them a different job title. So if you want to pay a premium for a PM of a certain product that require additional skills, you need a separate title.

I supposed that you could argue that “Product Manager, Platform” is a different title than “Product Manager, Experience” if you wanted. But in that case it seems like all you’re arguing is what words and punctuation we should use to describe a clearly different role.

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I don’t think you’re quite getting my point.

There is no need to create an entirely new job family called “technical product manager”. All PMs should be in the same job family but be distributed into different teams that have different focuses.

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What I am saying is that if HR says “You can’t pay position x a premium over position y unless it has a different job title” then there is a need to create an entirely new job family

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I’m an extremely technical PM who works on exactly those sorts of products.

I think Technical PM as job title distinct from PM is stupid. As I said, it’s a type of subject-matter expertise, and we don’t have separate job titles for all the other sorts of PMs. @MarcoSilva has the right idea of how all those other roles are labeled. There’s no reason for it to be a separate job ladder.

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Some companies call Technical PM just about anything from Project Development to Program Manager to Scrum Master to Delivery Manager. Occasionally the position is a true PM position.

Companies struggle to hire for these other positions so they go for the “PM” cachet.

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Technical PM roles are so inconsistent.

I took a TPM role that was a hybrid scrum master/product manager in a data team, delivering data products, pipelines, tools, etc. The product manager part was very tech focused and I was responsible for the “under the hood” parts of various B2B data products, migrating/getting sign off of ownership of various data around the org, helping teams make tech decisions, and setting-up my teams as data products teams. As well as the day-to-day scrum/delivery lead.

We still had traditional PMs that worked with the business, but we really worked in tandem to define our roadmaps, scope and vision.

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Welcome to the world of unclear titles. I would make sure you are well paid and can own something. Else it is a fancy name for doing all the complex crap work without a decision power - hence not a Product Manager…

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I have the title of “Technical PM” and it basically just refers to the fact that I work on a technical product as you suggest. I’m looking to leave my current org and I’ve found that TPM job postings are all over the map.

I tend to avoid applying to any post that

  1. says they require an engineering background
  2. mentions anything about performing releases or requiring “deep knowledge” in CI/CD
  3. requires knowledge of one or more programming languages.

Weeding out job posts along these criteria helps, but it’s still a crapshoot.

(Good luck on the job hunt too!)

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@DamianMarshall, Idk if avoiding those jobs is necessarily the right approach, as you might miss out on some good opportunities. I’ve recently gotten a new job that had the wrong requirements and I just told them that they have a wrong understanding of what they need.

It’s a startup so a bit all over the place, but I found the product challenging and they pay well, so decided to give it a shot.