Charting a Path to Leadership as a Program Manager

Automatic Summary

Discovering the Exciting Journey into Program Management

In this piece, we get a deep dive into the world of Program Management. AOL, a senior program manager presently at Google, shares her career journey with us, detailing her transition from mystified student to accomplished professional in the remarkable field of Program Management.

Beginnings and Influence

AOL, like most young kids filled with dreams and ambition, once aspired to become an astronaut, "That's a pretty standard answer for a kid, right?" AOL humorously reflects. She was thrilled with anything associated with space and even fantasized over becoming Paula Abdul. However, she never imagined becoming a Program Manager, a career field she fell into fortuitously.

Entering the World of Program Management

AOL started her career as an Engineering major at Georgia Tech. Following her graduation, she joined Eaton Corporation, working in various functional areas like customer service, supply chain, and manufacturing. This formed part of a three-year rotational program for individuals interested in business. AOL's diverging path began when she decided to pursue a business degree after being motivated by friends who were applying to business schools.

"There's no matter what your background is, there's a path and some application of whatever you're doing now for program management."

Choosing the Consultancy Route

Post-business school, AOL ventured into management consulting with Accenture and then Deloitte. She explains that without realizing it, she had bedded herself into Program Management which ordinarily forms a big part of consulting for clients. However, seven years down the lane, she realized she needed a change. AOL explains how the consulting lifestyle led her to question her career direction.

"It's just another tool in your belt if being certified is what you look for," AOL suggests.

Moving to Google – An Unexpected Turn of Events

In a surprising turn of events, Google reached out to AOL for a Program Management position within Finance, more specifically, mergers and acquisitions. AOL embraced this opportunity and moved to California. Here, she got a chance to explore the unique integration and separation processes while acquiring and selling companies, respectively. She credits these processes to program managers, which until then she wasn’t completely aware of.

"I didn't set out to be a Program Manager, I didn't even know the word 'Program Management' when I was at Georgia Tech," AOL amusingly said.

Tips For Future Program Managers

Through her story, AOL also imparts valuable advice to those considering a career in Program Management. She lists a set of characteristics to consider such as: being tactically minded, thriving in ambiguity, problem-solving skills, being highly organized, having the ability to work with various functions and experts, being curious and adaptable, having empathy, and staying calm under pressure. According to AOL, anyone possessing these skills might be a good fit for a Program Management position.


In closing, AOL's circuitous journey from starting out in the manufacturing industry in Georgia Tech to becoming a Program Manager at Google serves as an encouragement and guide for those intending to venture into the exciting field of Program Management. Over the years, AOL crafted her skills and embraced the challenging opportunities that have enabled her to make a significant impact in her role at Google.

Seeking to explore this field? AOL encourages rookies to pursue available certifications such as the 'The Google Certification' to gear up their program management skills which can provide the flexibility and mobility of applying those skills across various industries.

In her words, "Even if it's a fashion or tech, you can apply it! So if you're considering entering into this field, I love it, and I've managed to be successful in it. So, I encourage you to look into it."

Remember, curiosity and adaptability may just be the tools you need to kickstart your fulfilling journey into Program Management. AOL would also love to connect with you on LinkedIn for further enquiries.

Video Transcription

All right, welcome everybody. Um Welcome to the women's tech network conference. Um I'm really excited to be here to talk about program management. Um I do have a few slides to speak to um as we move along but not, not too many.Um Firstly, my name is AOL and I'm a senior program manager at Google. I've been a Google uh going on six years now. Um Formerly, I'm a management consultant at two firms. Um but I'll, I'll get into that in detail a little later. Um By all accounts, I would say program management is just a career that I fell into. Um I was in it before I even really knew what it was and what it meant to be a program manager and I just, absolutely. Um I love the, the field and um everything it entails. So I'm super excited to be um sharing sort of my experience with you and some of my takeaways. Um I thought it would be fun and interesting to share some context about myself. Um when I was young, you know, is all young people get asked, people asked me what I wanted to be and I said an astronaut and, you know, I think that's a pretty standard answer for a kid, right? Like people say, doctor vet astronaut, you know, that pretty standard. Um I don't know what really piqued my interest in space that early on as a kid. But I do remember watching, like the VHS recordings that my dad had of Carl Sagan's Cosmos.

Um It's a, it was a pretty popular show back then and I think it's been kind of reinvigorated um with the new host, um Neil, uh Neil Ty Nail Ties, um The Grass. I, I'm messing up his name. But anyways, um when I was in first or second grade, I think that that's when the, the seed was sort of planted. Um I loved reading sci fi. I think my favorite book was, you know, and still is actually The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. I still have that same book, um, to this day, um, nice and weathered. Um, but anything associated with space, I, I absolutely loved, um, interestingly enough, I also wanted to be Paula Abdul, but I think, you know, that's a, that's a different, you know, as I was reflecting back on my past and, um, you know, the influences. Um, and I think I'm probably dating myself now. But, um, you know, I, I did, you know, I, I love to at least pretend in my head that I, I knew how to dance. And so that was sort of a parallel path of, I think the field of astronomy and um uh you know, learning about space and being an astronaut didn't work out for me.

But what I never said I wanted to be, nor have I ever heard any kids say they wanted to be was a program manager. And that's kind of interesting, you know, how the field I think has developed over, you know, the past few years. Um And so I wanted to just share my experience and my journey into um program management, hoping, you know, maybe it might plant the seed for people that are considering or hesitant for, for whatever reason. Um So let's get into it. How did I end up in this profession? Um So I went to Georgia Tech. I'm from Georgia originally. Um and I majored in engineering and mechanical engineering. I originally started out in chemical engineering. Um but quickly realized after taking uh organic chem, the the field for me, I'm much more of a, a tangible person. I love like fixing things, putting things together, you know, wheels and gears and all of that. Um versus what I considered the more like intangible invisible world, like, you know, you would see if he was studying electrical engineering or chemical engineering. Um So mechanical engineering was sort of like my thing and it played more towards my strengths after I graduated from Georgia Tech, I took a position within Eaton Corporation and Eaton is like a what I would call a diversified manufacturer. So it's very similar to General electric.

Um So they play in a number of different industries. Um You know, there's a lot of room to, you know, if you're interested to kind of move around. And at that time, Eaton had and they may still have it a rotational program called the Leadership Development Program. I think eventually it was rebranded as the General Management development program. And so this was a program for people with an engineering background that were interested in business. And so what you did was you came into the program, it was three years and you had 49 month assignments more or less within, you know, the continental um states. Um And so uh the program allows you to move around into different functional areas, customer service supply chain, you know, you name it manufacturing still. Um and just kind of get a flavor for different functional areas within a company. And then the intent was after you graduated, graduated from the program, you take a full time position. I mean, we were all considered full time but like a, a real position where you're not, you know, moving around or, or anything. So I opted in for a position in aerospace, not surprisingly um an aerospace plant um in the South um and went there for a full time position in supply chain and procurement.

So I did that for about a year and around that time, you know, again, the path is pretty linear, right? Like you do engineering, you go into like an engineering based company, like there's nothing particularly like, you know, um uh surprising about that. Um But this is where I think my path started to diverge. Um So I had a cohort cohort of folks. Um you know, that I had graduated with, that had started to look into going to business school. And so, you know, they were going to H BS and Chicago Booth and all these programs and I was like, hm, this is kind of interesting, like this isn't something that I had ever, I think would have thought of on my own, right? Like I was exposed to business at Eaton. But in terms of going to school to learn, you know, the fundamentals of business that was very new to me. My world at that time was really, you know, focused, like very tech, you know, technical engineering. Um So I started looking into it and I was like, ok, this seems like a really cool experience. Um, you know, you get to take off for two years and, and do something different. So I applied and um to a number of schools I got into Fua and decided to go um for a number of different reasons. One, it was, I had a chance to visit the school. I loved it. You know, it's in the south.

There were a number of reasons um considerations that went into my choice. Um And it really opened up a huge new world for me, right, in terms of like just the people I was exposed to and you know, the opportunities that were out there, you know, across different functional areas, Eaton had done that to a certain extent, but it was still within the context of like engineering and manufacturing.

And so going to business school, you know, with people, you know, that were investment bankers and management consultants and marketing. Um brand management. Um focus was really interesting. Um And so, you know, during those two years, which were amazing, um I had a lot of amazing experiences that I wouldn't have had ordinarily. Um you know, I started to explore what I was really interested in and what I wanted to, to do. And originally I thought, I thought it was brand management, but I realized I'm one of those people that it's more, much more comfortable being a general manager, like in that space, I didn't want to be pigeonholed into one particular functional area, like it's just never been my thing.

Um And so I go, I decided to accept the position or I excited to pursue a field. Um you know, where people who don't know what they want to do, go uh this, that's kind of how I think about it in my mind. And so, um I decided to go into management consulting and that would still give me the experiences that I felt like I, I wanted. Right? Um, so I accepted a position within accenture. I think everybody knows a accenture. Um, and, you know, and have the opportunity to explore different industries um within, you know, sort of the context of, you know, consulting. Right. And so that's when I think I really kind of without knowing it unwittingly, um, you know, kind of put my cause into program management because um a lot of what, unless you're in a specific area within consulting, like, you know, the strategy practice or uh you know, technology practice, a lot of what you're doing is program management for um for your clients.

And so, you know, I did that for a number of years and then I changed and then I went to Deloitte. Um and that change was really prompted more because I felt like in, when I joined accenture, I was utilities, I forget what they call. I think it was called like the Natural Natural Resources Group. And I really wanted to kind of get out of that. I was put into that group. I think just because of my background in, in um in engineering and what I wanted to get out and really kind of explore a lot of other industries, right? And so I went to Deloitte and Deloitte uh enabled me to do that. And so I got more exposure into still doing program management. But within finance within health, within, like, health care, um, and a number of different financial, um, services, um, et cetera. And so at this point, you know, I've been a consulting for seven years and consulting, management consulting is one of those things, you know, I mean, you're living out of your, your suitcase, you know, r originally, like when you get into it and you, you're young, you're excited by a lot of things that just don't excite you later on in life.

Right. You get, you're getting the hotel points and the, the, the miles and upgrades and all of that and all of that's sexy and wonderful. But as you get older, like your priorities start to change a little bit. Right. And you start to question, ok, what am I doing? What am I really doing? You're living out of, you know, suitcase, you're working extraordinarily long hours. Um, you know, certain parts of your life, it's kind of easy to neglect. Um And so, although you're, you're learning very valuable skills and management consulting where you're kind of thrust into a project and you, you have to figure it out very quickly, start delivering very quickly because, you know, the clients are paying a lot of money for you to be there.

Um On the flip side personally, there's a lot that you, you can potentially give up as well. So I knew, you know, I'd done it for seven years across two different firms. I knew this isn't, it wasn't a lifestyle that I could see myself continuing to do. Um, and as you move up in management consulting, one thing, um, at least for the firms that I've been exposed to, it's a, you know, up or out kind of situation. Right. So you can continue to move up. But then also there's a sales component that starts to be integrated as you get further up. So it's not just being on the ground and executing, it's also bringing in work and selling. And that's certainly not my s my, my strong point or what I'm interested in at all. Um So I'm just not why I wasn't wired for it. And I was honest with enough with myself to kind of acknowledge that. Um So I started to reflect on what I wanted to do and I knew I enjoyed creating new processes from all of the work that I've done in consulting. Um I knew I love, like just bringing order to chaos, collaborating, like all the things that program managers do. And so looking back, the theme was always program management for me. And so I really decided, you know, towards the end of the seven years to formalize that I went, you know, got my P MP certification from the PM I from um the Program Management Institute.

Um And then um quite luckily, I think just because a few of the projects that I had done towards the end of my career in consulting were in finance. Google had reached out surprisingly, so they reached out because they had a program management position within finance, more specifically mergers and acquisitions um that they needed somebody for. And so I applied to the position I got in and, you know, a few months later I was moving from Georgia to California. And so essentially what the position is is when Google and all companies have this, when Google, you know, apple, et cetera, when they acquire a company or decide to sell a company, there's a whole army of people behind making that happen and making that successful. And a large part of that are program managers. Like, how do you integrate a company into your company or alternatively, how do you separate them out of your company? Right. And so a lot of that is fueled by program managers. Um And up until that point, I had never been aware that, you know, I just never been aware that that was sort of like an avenue of um program management fitting into sort of like this niche area of M and A and mergers and acquisitions.

Um So anyway, it's like I said, I got the position I moved out here. Um And it's been wonderful ever since, um I wanna make a plug because Google does have certifications which have rolled out over the past few months. Um On Coursera for people that are interested in program management um, I'm biased now having kind of, you know, I was part of rolling out that program but then I also have my P MP, you know, I'm biased towards, you know, one of the other, I tend to think maybe the Google program is maybe a little bit more practical.

I don't know. Um, but it just depends on, you know, your desire, your desires, it can't hurt to, you know, go for the PM. I um excuse me for the P MP certification through PM. I it's just another kind of, you know, something in, in your, in your belt, um tool in your belt if you, if you desire, um if you know, being certified is what you look for. Um So anyway, so I joined Google, I was in finance M and A, I had the chance to travel all around the world, right? Um Mostly on the divestiture side because we would, you know, when we were splitting up companies, we did a lot of work in Africa. So I had a chance to travel to countries in Africa. Um And then did that for a number of years and then decided I wanted to go back to the product side. Um and kind of go back to my roots in engineering a little bit. Um So since then, um that was about three years ago, I've been working on product launches, feature launches across different product areas that we have. Um So geo you know, so GEO is like Google maps, anything related to like the location, um as well as the broader sort of engine of Google, which is search. Um And what comes up in the search results when you, you know, search for, um certain things.

Um So that was my journey, which was a bit circuitous, you know, certainly not, you know, coming from Georgia Tech, um you know, going into eating and manufacturing, working on the floor, the manufacturing floor and steel toe boots and oil everywhere and then, you know, somehow ending up at Google and working as a finance PGM and then, you know, subsequently on the product side, um I didn't set out to be a PGM.

I didn't even in Georgia Tech, I don't think I mentioned, knew the word program management really. Um And so I say this to say like if you're interested, there's no matter what your background is, there's, there's a path and there's some, some application of whatever you're doing now, um or program management to whatever you're doing now PG MS are embedded in, embedded in all all functions.

Yeah. So if you're interested in entering into program management, um I hope, you know, this kind of gives you sort of a boost or at least food for thought. Um to not really, don't be too hesitant, you know, do your research. Um I think, you know, a couple of things it takes really is just being able to be very tactical um in how you approach things, but then also kind of being able to take a step back and be more of a strategic thinker, definitely the ability to thrive in ambiguity and love kind of the the process of problem solving.

You know, somebody gives you a problem and you figure out how to structure it, who needs to be involved. What resources do you need, like everything, you know, to come together to make something happen. Um You have to be highly organized as well. Um And I think this is a skill set that was I at least took for granted until, you know, I started working with other people. And I was like, oh wow, this really is something, this is a unique thing. Not everybody is very, you know, kind is very organized in that sense where you can just give them, you know, a mass and they can figure out how to kind of separate the, the sand and make it organized and make it something that's workable. Um So that's not a skill, it's not a trivial skill and it's not something that everybody has. So if you have it, you know, and use it um the ability to work with various functions and experts collaborate with people, different types of people, personalities. Um being curious and adaptable to different situations. Also having empathy. I think that that's a big piece of it because you will be working with people like I said, across, across the organization, um and having empathy for where they're coming from and their pain points and also calmness under pressure.

Um and, you know, that can come again with ambiguity. Some people, you know, when, if things aren't buttoned up, when you're given it, uh when they're given, when it's given to them, you know, they tend to kind of collapse, right? And that's not sort of like a luxury of, of being a program manager, you have to be able to kind of keep calm under pressure and, and figure things out. Um And so those I think, you know, those are just a few things to consider. Um But, you know, I thought it would be an interesting sort of, you know, talk to give because like I said, you know, in undergrad, you know, there's no program, at least when I was um going to school program for program managers, is it just maybe it's just too general, I of a, of a, a feel to have like a specialization, but it is something that's, you know, highly reputable um can lead to some really big sort of like career um opportunities for you.

It gives you if you're, if you're good, it gives you a lot of like flexibility. Like I said, you can apply it to a number of different fields um and industries. And so it gives you that mobility, right? Like if you go in and you become an investment banker, you are an investment banker and you know, it, it that's, there's a, a small sub subset of areas where you can actually like play and, and be successful. But as a program manager, you can really apply it to, to anything fashion even um tech. Um So if you're considering it, considering entering into the field, I, I love it. Um and I've managed to be relatively successful in it. So, um you know, I encourage you to kind of look into it, look into some of the certifications, the Google certification um that I mentioned as well. Um So that's that. Thank you. Um OK, it looks like I have one question. Uh Let's see, is there a difference between, yes, there is a bit of a difference. So program management is um uh comprised of a number of different projects of your program manager. You have a number of different projects under you. So it's just higher up in the ar um hierarchy. Yeah. Um I think I'm out of time but please um look me up on linkedin. I would love to connect with all of you guys. I can answer your questions offline. Um As well. Thank you for joining.