What is Technical Product Management about? What is a Technical Product Management interview like?
These are two key, interrelated questions. While explaining what is involved with a Technical PM position is beyond the remit of this article, it is important to understand those distinctions that justify a certain interviewing style. So, whether you are an active TPM or an aspiring one, here is a refresher. What are they really good for?
After explaining their functions, we have divided Technical Product Management interview questions between 3 sets. Each set has 7 different questions as examples; but remember that you can combine or change the components slightly to understand how recruiters try to assess your fitness to the role.
Technical PMs: The Product Manager’s Product Manager
Product Managers are often portrayed as tech-versed professionals. Companies like Google or Apple, which are leading the industry to new heights, are well-known for their software and hardware achievements.
Their discipline is the leading one in Silicon Valley, right? So people add two and two, and they induce that every single worker must have deep understanding of matters like coding, automating and other complex software engineering topics. By association, it spreads the idea that you cannot be a Product Manager if you lack understanding of these topics.
However, do not throw your coding manuals into the fire yet! Programming might not be essential to begin your Product Management career, but it becomes increasingly useful as you climb the hierarchy. It increases your influence with engineering teams, it brings confidence to your presentations and it allows you to focus more on your vision and less on unexpected technical hurdles.
Beyond these superficial assessments, nonetheless, there are situations when specific knowledge becomes not useful but a requirement. This is the case for many B2B operations, where teams are developing products for other companies. Think of Customer Service solutions, messaging bots, payment applications… All of these, which are often called SaaS (Software as a Service) are meant to solve problems that arise in a business setting. While UX and UI are as or even more important than in B2C contexts, its technical systems must be rigorous.
This is where the Technical Product Manager becomes an essential cog in the machine. A regular PM without substantial industry exposure might feel lost navigating seas of code and unexpected errors. TPMs are there to support this side of the operation. Usually embedded with the larger engineering team, they are more connected to the development-related matters than the marketing-related matters of the product.
At the same time, this does not mean that Technical Product Managers lack the ability to understand and even enter new markets. One of Amazon’s most successful applications, Amazon Web Services, began as an internal tool for company divisions. Many mass products launched by Google also started as solutions for specific teams within the company. Thus, TPMs are more heavily situated in the heart of the product factory, but they still have their eyes on the customer.
In fact, in bigger operations, regular PM and TPM teams complement each other. TPMs are not duplicating the hierarchy; rather, they facilitate the division of labor between functional teams and ensure that communications run smoothly between internal stakeholders. In short, they represent fully-equipped PMs with a flair for programming, development and engineering.
Sounds enticing? You’ll have to get through that interview first!
Technical Product Management Interview Questions
Assessing Your Fitness to the Role
This is obvious right? The company needs to know whether you are suitable for the advertised vacancy.
While we cannot go into detail as to what you will encounter, think that the key variables are: seniority of role, economic sector and company size. These parameters will really change the setting and tone of the interview. It will not mean the same to answer a Technical Product Manager vacancy at a growing startup, than at a large digital corporation.
As a whole, what interviewers are trying to assess here is your interest for that particular position. Product Managers being so in-demand, it is no wonder that recruiters seek to hire only the perfect candidates.
- How does this position fit in your overall Product Management career path?
- Do you tend to be more business-oriented or technical-oriented?
- While we make x product for the general public, we also have a B2B division. What is your experience with juggling both markets?
- What attracts you the most to this project: our product or our company?
- I have seen that, in the past, you have worked as x position (think software engineer or program manager). Can you tell me what this taught you with regards to the importance of x factor (think design sprints or stakeholder management)?
- What do you think makes a Technical Product Manager stand out? Are there any differences with regular Product Management?
- In this position, you will be in charge of x processes and y teams. Can you tell me whether you have had similar experiences in the past?
Testing Your Technical Awareness
This is the meaty part, where you have to demonstrate an understanding of whatever systems they use at the company. Equally, these questions try to flesh out how much of a “technical” PM you are. One thing is to know one thing or two about coding; another is to be able to use it under pressure. It is important that you do not mislead on either your resume or your application letter. Basically, it would be the same as claiming to speak a language you have very limited knowledge of.
So be honest and direct. In fact, even if you have to admit that you ignore a particular software tool, you could get through the question if you manage to show a keen interest for learning and growing. This will let the recruiter know that you are adaptable: everybody knows that techniques change every few years whatever the industry, so nobody can ever dominate the full skill set. Show humility and an eagerness to enlarge your toolbox.
- Our engineering teams are pretty used to employing x methodologies. What is your opinion of them? Have you used them in the past?
- Are you familiar with x/y/z system that we use here? Can you clarify how you have used them in the past?
- Is there a particular life experience that shows your willingness to learn new techniques?
- We are very interested in training our PMs on the technical side of the business. Do you have any mentoring experience you can bring to the table?
- Before, we used to rely on x company to provide y service, but we are currently bringing it in-house. Would you be comfortable with this type of project?
- How would you face a technical challenge you have never encountered before? Describe your methodology step by step.
- What are your favored tools to manage x process (workflow, people management, wire-framing)? Why?
Bringing Product Management In
Once you have shown that you are perfect for the role and can prove your technical prowess, it is time to link them back to the big picture. Remember that you are a Product Manager, after all. This company wants you to provide and defend an original vision, which can be translated and broken up into tasks for other teams to execute.
This is where tech and business meet. You need to show how your abilities as a coder complement your market acumen and vice versa. You are meant to be the perfect combination of geek and salesperson: think Steve Jobs. You must understand when a decision makes sense and back it with accurate data depending on these two equally important pillars.
- What are the key conflicts between development and business teams? Can you show examples of how you reconciled them in the past?
- What is the importance of engineers and technical teams as stakeholders? How do you integrate them in the overall product vision?
- Can you provide an example where a technical solution you or your team designed became a commercial application?
- How do you bring “the user” in as a Technical Product Manager?
- How do you ensure that market-oriented teams fully understand technical challenges?
- How do you align technical goals with business targets?
- How do you measure success with a product?
The Technical Product Manager Challenge
The increasing complexity of the tech industry is adding pressure onto busy product teams. Today, it is no longer enough to understand a market and develop a tailored solution to satisfy its needs. More and more, companies specialize on technological niches with their own dynamics, languages and tools. As these niches seek their own set of consumers, demand for Technical Product Managers will grow.
We have offered you a selection of plausible questions that you could get in an interview situation. All in all, the overall goal is to show that you are ready to take on the responsibilities linked with TPMing. In short, devoting equal time to the developmental and business factors involved in ensuring your product’s success.