April 23, 2020 Life as a Program Manager

An interview with Topcoder Program Manager, Sanjay Kushwaha

The road to this role: what role did you have before this?

I started my career as a Tier 3 Engineer for Avaya India. Our team was responsible for supporting and maintaining Avaya CMS systems all over the world. It was an exciting role to play and the tremendous pressure which I experienced shaped my career.

The normal day to day job included talking to multiple clients and fixing server issues. Issues could range from whole call centers down to small warnings generated by systems. This made me learn how to work in multitasking mode, avoid distractions and prioritize and resolve issues which matter most.

Afterwards, I joined Verizon. This was the start of more than an eleven year journey in which I started as a Software Engineer and left the company as a Senior Architect. I was part of the product development team. The main purpose of this team was to create innovations and launch new products in the market. I was fortunate to work on products like FiOS, home monitoring, self service, VZ One Phone, etc.

Why did you want to become a Program Manager?

Running an enterprise level program was always a dream of mine. Shaping an enterprise level program and running it successfully is a big challenge. I have seen in the past the tremendous pressure, risks and rewards it comes with. I am always thrilled to see how small steps lead to a program’s successes and failures.

I wanted to lead the programs and set higher standards on how to run programs successfully. The main motive behind this is to serve the end users well while making sure the team is always in the best state of mind. I have seen great leaders in my life and becoming one who can perform and serve the community better is my true end goal.

What are the main responsibilities/tasks you have as a Program Manager? What kind of skills do you need?

Coming from a sports background, I learned that changing the strategy as the situation demands is the best strategy. I believe that’s the mantra for running a successful program.

Setting a plan and following 100% of that plan only happens in a virtual environment. Keeping up with the pace, changes and situational demands and running a program smoothly is the most important role of a program manager. However, the other important aspect of a program manager’s life is to always communicate with the clients and team to make sure people are aware of what’s happening on the project. Keeping them informed, taking action, removing any hindrance for the team and making sure they are always in the best state of mind are also very important roles for a Program Manager.

Reaching the end goal of a program successfully is the ultimate objective of the team. It’s very easy to not see the big picture and lose sight of the ultimate goal. Program managers and important stakeholders will always be reviewing the program, making sure teams are striving toward the end goal, and they are not getting affected by distractions.

There are hundreds of other PgM responsibilities, however, all of them lead to the above stated goals.

Was it hard to learn/start?

Coming from a sports background, I guess my learning started well before I realized. I was the youngest vice-captain for my hockey team. I led from the front and our team won a competition and went on to play school nationals.

I would say until you try, you will not learn. Once you try, you will fail and then ultimately learn. In my case, the sports background and career with Avaya set me up for this. The various roles I have played and my longing to solve problems helped me learn this. 

What challenges do you face as a Program Manager?

The biggest challenge I face on a day to day basis is to keep everyone aligned and focused on agreed upon end goals while still maintaining the satisfaction of all the stakeholders. 

Balancing timeline and budget is an art with ever-changing requirements. This is one of the most important challenges for a program manager. 

What have you learned so far as a Program Manager?

How to get the job done while still maintaining the satisfaction of all the stakeholders.

Is there a next step on your career ladder? Where do you see yourself in five years?

There is a lot to learn in this role; I have still not decided what the next role I am aspiring to will be. I have seen great leaders in my life and becoming one who can perform and serve the community better is my true end goal.


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