4 min read

Yeeeah, About That TPM Role

Yeeeah, About That TPM Role
I hope I wasn't a Lumbergh-esque manager. All credit to Mike Judge and 20th Century Fox

There is no easy way to say this:

I'm not going to be an Engineering Manager at Atlassian anymore.

Instead, I'm going to be a Technical Program Manager (TPM) at a large Australian-American company that is focused on unleashing the potential of every team.



It's Atlassian. I'm going to be a TPM at Atlassian.

So, Todd, What's Happening?

Before I get started, I want to make one thing very very clear; me changing to a TPM role has absolutely nothing to do with the part of Atlassian I work in (which is awesome) or the people that I am currently working with (who are also awesome).

In fact, my new role is in exactly the same area where I am currently a manager, Shard Management, so I'm not even going anywhere. I'm just going to be doing more of some things and less of others.

Which brings me to the actual motivation for the change.

As I've alluded to in a previous blog post, I need to expend a vast amount of energy to do a good job at the people stuff, and I've started to realise that it's becoming unsustainable. I could just half-ass the people side of things to mitigate the problem, but that's not how I roll, so instead I'm going to try something different and see if that helps.

Specifically, I will be changing my role from Senior Engineering Manager (M60) to Principal Technical Program Manager (P60).

As you can see from the role identifiers, it's a lateral move. I'm changing craft, but not level of seniority, which is nice. The money is the same, the overall expectations are different, but the level of expected impact is about equivalent.

In terms of timelines, the transition will happen sometime in FY24 Q4, which isn't all that far away, so I've really only got a few months of being a manager left.

Will You Have That TPM Role For Me Soon?

I haven't switched yet, but the process I went through to line up the role change was pretty straightforward.

Atlassian has a strong internal mobility program, which is a fancy way of saying that we look internally for candidates before we look externally. I've used this process a few times as the hiring manager, but this was the first time that I went through it as a candidate.

It was pretty good.

The intent is the same as the interview process for external candidates, just a bit less formal and more lightweight, especially for lateral moves. After all, if you're already functioning inside the Atlassian ecosystem, the risk of hiring you for a role is much lower.

I generally try to keep my interview skills sharp by actively executing them, but I've been a bit slack lately. The last time I went through a proper interview process was when I was exploring a Gitlab role almost two years ago.

I'm sure my interview skills were a bit rusty as a result.

As for the actual process itself, the first part was a series of casual conversations with the hiring manager, not technically part of the internal mobility process, though still a common situation.

I used those conversations to understand if the role was something I wanted to pursue, and the hiring manager used them as a way to subtly evaluate me before actually investing in the interview process.

Then two actual interviews:

  • One with a senior TPM
  • One with the hiring manager

The first one, the one with the senior TPM, was intended to critically evaluate whether or not I had any product sense, which is the ability to understand customer needs and propose solutions that will benefit them or solve their problems. It also covered off a little bit of the technical acumen and execution without authority pillars.

The second one, with the hiring manager, was mainly focused on evaluating my execution without authority capabilities, to see if I was capable of organising and scheduling work for a group of people. Like the other interview, it also lightly covered off the other two pillars.

Afterwards, the two interviewers compared notes and came to the conclusion that I was worth a shot, because about a week later the hiring manager reached out to me and offered me the role.

Which I accepted.

We Should Probably Go Ahead and Have A Talk

As I mentioned earlier, my time as a manager isn't quite over yet.

I have promises to keep and many miles to go before I sleep.

In all seriousness, I'm not the sort of person to just cut and run and leave a big old leadership gap problem to be solved by someone else. Plus, that would just disadvantage me in my new role anyway, as I need a functioning team of engineers to execute all of the things.

In this case, I'll be leaving the majority of the recruitment (i.e. finding and evaluating candidates) to my own manager and a peer of mine. I'd link the role here, but they haven't started recruiting externally yet, because they've been focused on evaluating internal candidates first.

I'll be responsible for training up my replacement though, helping them to understand the domain, the current arrangement of people, the tricks and traps involved in both of those things and any other delicious secrets that I happen to have (and are willing to share).

I'll also have to do pretty much all of the work required for the next round of performance evaluations, as I'll have all of the context and they will have none. Expecting someone else to do that would be ridiculous, and it would be doing a disservice to the people I'm currently responsible for anyway.

At least I'll only have to do it once more.

We Definitely Need To Play Catch Up

As with any change in my life, I am both terrified and excited. Pretty much exactly how I felt when I first started at Atlassian.

I'm excited to no longer have to do some of the things that exhaust me. I feel like it will leave me with more energy to do other stuff, and possibly even more energy to just enjoy my life outside of a professional context.

I'm terrified because I'm sure that this will be when everyone discovers that I am an imposter and I actually have no idea what I'm doing. I've managed to fake being a competent Engineering Manager for this long, so surely changing roles will expose me for the fraud that I am?

That's partially a joke and partially a legitimate fear by the way.

Still, can't let fear run your life.