Hello, my name is Arnab Sen. Currently based in Paris, I am a Technical Delivery Manager (or TDM for short) at AKQA, a digital innovation agency with over 5000 employees spread across the globe. Previously I worked at the San Francisco office, before transferring over to the Paris location to launch an e-commerce platform for a large French luxury retailer. To industry outsiders, the term Technical Delivery Manager is quite vague. My wife often jokes that I make deliveries for UberEats or Deliveroo! In reality, it is a cross-functional role that involves a wide array of duties such as:
The roles have some overlap, with product management responsibilities falling to the TDM in case the Product Manager role has not actually been identified or carved out as a separate role. For instance, many client teams have marketing and technology clients that I interact with, but no identified product owner or business analyst who has a holistic view from a consumer, business and technical perspective combined. In situations such as this, I might have to step in and define the requirements and technical specifications, write the user stories, squeeze out additional hidden or missing requirements, identify gaps in the design or scope, and solidify the acceptance criteria.
Yes, I thoroughly enjoy identifying the customer requirements that drive the technical solutions we are expected to provide, so being a product owner is quite tempting. The Product Manager role allows you to fully focus on this end result at a high level, rather than the day to day minutiae of bug fixes, resource allocation, and other less scintillating parts of the role. At the end of the day, I still thrive on the technical aspects and interaction with developers so I continued on the TDM track.
As a software engineer you have to drill down deep into one (or a few) technologies, slowly strengthening your skillset until you become a subject matter expert in that ecosystem. I enjoyed being enveloped in code during the initial stage of my career for about 5 years, but was always curious about how technology fit in with the world at large alongside business, UX, strategy, data, and design. An Engineering Manager role is quite close to that of a TDM, but with a greater focus on hands-on coding and mentoring other engineers. This would have required me to hone my software development skills for a longer period of time then I did, and would not have allowed me the flexibility the TDM role grants in terms of the variety of tasks I juggle on a day to day basis.
I like to be kept on my toes, continuously learning new technologies and working with a variety of brands and projects, while collaborating with multidisciplinary teams. Each project and client is different from the next, with unique needs and tech stacks to boot. Every day is full of new challenges and learnings.
A non-average day would involve some firefighting and client emergencies on multiple fronts, perhaps with a product launch or demo also scheduled for that day. Imagine that the CEO has just resigned for one client, so a press release has to be immediately published on the website before rumors start flying. In the meantime the hosting provider for another website is having DNS resolution issues on their CDN, leading the website to become unavailable in many regions. At the same time, a client demo is coming up in a few hours so last minute feedback and content is pouring in from the design team that the development team has to immediately integrate prior to the demo commencing.
A more serene non-average day might involve researching potential tools and technology for a new business pitch, allowing me to deep dive into several solutions or develop a prototype as a proof of concept of some desired functionality or feature.
The chance to define a project from its inception, to form and guide a team of engineers to build a high quality product despite changing requirements and short timelines and anything else that is thrown our way, and finally to launch that solution to the end users of the product is a very satisfying feeling.
As a TDM at a digital agency, it is sometimes frustrating that after the initial launch you often hand over the maintenance and evolution of a project to the client’s internal team. I have no long term insights into the performance of that product, and cannot build upon the initial foundation we established either functionally or technically. The horizon to be able to learn and grow from past successes or failures is limited in these instances.
The interview will assess your technical and managerial capabilities at a higher level. A random sampling of potential questions: Are you aware of the leading frameworks and tools on the market? What is your approach to defining API specifications? How do you lead teams? How do you manage development sprints? How do you balance scope, cost, and timing? What kind of projects have you led or worked on in the past? What were the main hurdles you had to overcome?
As the role involves interaction with colleagues whom you will lead and peers in other departments you will work alongside, the interview steps will include being introduced to developers, the director of technology, and team members from other disciplines such as project management or client services.
A SWE interview would be primarily focused on identifying the individual’s level of knowledge with regards to particular programming languages, tools, and frameworks, assessing knowledge of design patterns and common algorithms, whiteboarding solutions that outline how high level architectural concerns might be handled, sample coding with code reviews, and reviewing past projects or open source contributions.
A TDM interview could touch upon all of the above, but there would not be a rigorous focus on the coding aspect.
As a new TDM, most likely your past experience will stem from being an individual contributor with a software engineering background or an engineering manager. Despite your technical experience, it will be the softer skills such as negotiation and collaboration that will allow you to push projects through to completion.
Identify which aspects of working with technology that you are most passionate about - is it getting your hands dirty in code, making architectural decisions and researching solutions, testing code in real world situations, leading and growing teams, or interacting with and managing the expectations of a wider group of both technical and non-technical individuals who will collectively work together on shaping the product. If you land in the middle of this spectrum, and can handle being stretched thin and pulled in many directions at times - a Technical Delivery Manager role can be a fantastic fit for you.
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