3 Tough Technical Project Manager Interview Questions & Answers

Technical Project Manager Interview Questions

What is a Technical Project Manager?

The short answer: a project manager with deep technical understanding.

Now let me go deeper and explain the difference in having a technical project manager (TPM) versus just any project manager (PM) on your team.

The biggest difference is their technical aptitude for understanding data center construction, server, network and storage configurations…

…and the fact many technical project managers have hands-on experience, which helps them understand the complexity of most project tasks.

Bottom-line, a TPM (aka IT PM) will apply best practices vs. best efforts.

Choose carefully…

Far too often PMs with [very little or no] technical background get tossed into a technical project and then flounder around confused or add to the chaos.

It’s already going to be a challenge getting the work done [for say a data center migration] but then add someone to the mix who only knows PMP principles and the game will be on reporting RED status updates for months. In most cases, IT Managers gets involved more than they should have to so the deadline is not missed, or penalty fees are not charged.

Advantages of a TPM vs. PM

What you really need is someone with technical project management skills who can engage with the technical staff at a high level and ask the right questions so the project schedule has realistic dates, and sets the right expectations.

Also, a TPM who understands Scrum and Kanban is even more valuable.

Why?

Because Scrum knowledge will help when they work with developer’s agile processes, and Kanban will help them to organize and prioritize their technical tasks.

A HUGE key for a technical project’s success is proper planning! And a TPM who understands technology has the advantage over a PM forcing PMP principles to fit into the project plan.

3 Technical Project Manager Interview Questions

These three real-world technical project manager interview questions are designed to be tough and increase your project success rate by filtering out [up front] candidates without technical depth and experience.

Interview Question #1

  • Explain your experience in planning and managing data center migrations or consolidations?
  • What were some of the challenges your project team encountered?
  • And how did you work around them?

If the TPM candidate doesn’t mention network as a challenge, then follow-up with other questions about any network tasks.

Background:

DC migrations and consolidations are common assignments for technical PMs.

The TPM whom has successfully planned a migration of physical and/or virtual infrastructure to another data center location [or even to a cloud platform] will have experienced the challenges of complicated networking and storage issues.

They will also have mapped out applications, databases, and web servers for reconstruction on the other end.

The common project gotchas that arise are because of unplanned dependencies or higher than expected complexity.

Oftentimes the culprit is a PM who doesn’t get it when someone on the technical team explains the complexity of a task.

It just doesn’t compute and they don’t go deep enough into understanding the risks or they’re not setting the right expectation with the stakeholders.

Answer Analysis:

Someone who answers this question with examples of moving network segments or circuits (or terabytes of data) is aware of complexity.

Answering these questions with relevant explanations of handling these (or similar) challenges successfully is a valuable PM skill.

Interview Question #2

  • Explain your experience managing projects involving server consolation where 100s of physical servers were converted to a virtual platform?
  • What virtualization platform was used and how were the hypervisor servers configured for high availability?
  • What type of shared storage was used?

Most server consolidation projects happening involve building private clouds, or migrating to public clouds, or even a combination of both which is called a hybrid cloud. Ask follow-up questions to find out if the interview candidate has  participated in these types of projects yet.

Background:

Server consolidations are common and the technical challenges encountered will teach new project managers the lessons they need to better prepare for unexpected problems.

Problems such as storage and network performance issues after the migration, or servers that require specific firewall ports to be opened so network traffic can pass from the database to the application and web servers.

Also, there is usually a lot of hardware involved that needs a plan on how it will be set up and configured.

This all plays into the project plan and needs to be organized and tracked on a project task list (backlog), or if they’re using scrum these will be sprints.

Answer Analysis:

A candidate answering this set of questions with answers that go into details on ESXi or KVM hosts for hypervisors, or VLAN configuration for management networks, or LUN configuration for SAN or NFS storage will validate they have been exposed to the common tasks involved in performing server migrations.

Other answers about solving network or storage over-subscription problems will also be a validation of experience.

Interview Question #3

  • Explain your experience handling the refresh of an application stack from the application down to the infrastructure? For example: refreshing the hardware, operating system, middleware and re-installing and configuring the application.
  • How did you plan this?
  • What were some of the challenges?
  • What would you do differently the next time?

Don’t be afraid to go into a deep technical discussions. Add people from the technical team to the interview panel so they can properly vet the candidates, too.

Background:

This is common in environments that are out of compliance and old servers have been allowed to continue to operate long after the end of life for the hardware and software.

Now due to compliance, the business is forced to upgrade and refresh the application or risk security issues.

This requires a lot of planning and in some cases the development of custom code for remediation of legacy issues with browsers or databases.

It also may be that the database also needs to be refreshed on a newer version and this can make things even more complex.

Answer Analysis:

Someone who has been through this type of project experience will have learned the technical difficulties and will answer these questions with examples of incompatible databases, or 32-bit applications and operating systems that were uplifted to a 64-bit platform. Or possibly hardware dependencies that need to be worked through.

They may even answer with examples about failures because the application was so outdated it could not be migrated and required a full code rewrite.

Tip!

Need help writing a TPM job description? Check out these technical project manager job listings on LinkedIn for examples <read listings>.

Increase your odds…

There’s no guarantee you will not have delays or problems with any technical project. But I can speak from experience that having a good technical project manager leading your project team will increase your odds for success!

When scoping a project it’s critical to understand technology and the complexity of making things work together. And probably the most important task for a TPM is setting realistic expectations with the business and stakeholders.

Sure you can have someone give bogus delivery dates because they don’t know any better, but that only leads to frustration due to long weekends to redo work, additional costs for add-ons, and RED status updates because of slippage.

Increase your odds of success by asking the right interview questions. And finding a true ITPM.

Bonus:

Are you a new PM without any technical skills? Here’s a post about where you can find technical training online.

Related Interview Questions For Hiring Technical Managers:

Please feel free to add these technical project manager interview questions to your next PM interview. 

Discussion

  1. shitalmehta
  2. Jackie
    • Joe

Leave a Reply

vSphere Data Protection EOA
3 Alternative vSphere Backup Replacements For VDP

Important Notification: vSphere Data Protection (VDP) End of Availability (EOA) That...

vSphere 6
8 Updates That Make vSphere 6 Better – Keith Barker

Editor’s note: Keith Barker has been a CBT Nuggets Trainer since 2012. Some...

VMware Interview Questions
25 VMware Interview Questions And Answers: Tough & Technical (Download PDF)

Free VMware vSphere Interview Guide In this VMinstall Guide I’ll share a...

Project Photon
VMware Project Photon: Technical Review for Linux Admins

My quick and dirty review of Project Photon. I was very happy...

DevOps Plan
Best DevOps Strategy Hack (Winners Start With Why)

What is DevOps? It’s a model. It’s a culture. It’s a...

DevOps Tools Download
DevOps Toolchain: Download 3 Free Tools Used By Pros (Ansible, Git, Jenkins)

Hack Your Resume with DevOps Skills Lately I’ve been getting a...

DevOps Guide
Microsoft DevOps: 25+ Powerful Windows SysAdmin Skills (NEW Guide!)

What is Microsoft DevOps? This is an interesting question because first off,...

continuous integration tools
DevOps Training Courses That Will Give You The Edge (Perfect For Beginners Who Want Skills That Are Noticed By Google & Facebook…)

When I was just a fledgling starting out as a Jr...

Click here to learn how to Optimize WordPress Speed
WordPress Speed Optimization: Part 4 – VPS Case Study To Make VMinstall.com Rank Higher In Google Through Faster Hosting & High Availability @ Lower Cost

This is going to be a quick and dirty part 4...

Best Hosting for WordPress
Case Study: Best VPS For Easy WordPress Migration

Why I moved my WordPress blog off slow shared hosting… Let’s...

cloudways review updated
11 Cloudways Review Pros & Cons From My Deep Dive Testing (VPS Series: Part 2)

Which is a better cPanel alternative of a VPS – Cloudways...

ServerPilot Review
ServerPilot Review: Installing WordPress On DigitalOcean (VPS Series: Part 1)

How to install WordPress on a cloud server like a Pro...

DesTechAZ
What’s So Interesting About Woz U?

On 10/12/2017, I had the privilege of attending the AZ Tech...

tensorflow training
TensorFlow Tools for Beginners (7 Easy Takeaways To Get You Started)

Introduction To Deep Learning As a follow-up to my book review...

job rut
How To Get MOVING When You’re Stuck In A Career Rut (Video)

You worked hard to get your degree and after graduation you...

Storage Engineer Skills
Why Storage Engineer Skills Are HOT! (Can You Say Big Data?)

3 BIG Skills New Storage Engineers Are Missing Out On… Behind...

Open Source Storage Software
3 Open Source Storage Software Alternatives For Beginners

Build Your Own Storage Solution! Reflecting on my trip to VMworld...

VMware VCP FOR Hire eBook
Read Excerpts from VCP for Hire eBook

BIG Thanks… Before I share the excerpt of VCP for Hire,...

How to Self Publish Your VMware eBook KDP
How to Self Publish Your VMware eBook KDP

Do you have a VMware book you’d like to self publish...

free chef for 5 servers
Free Hosted Opscode to Try Chef On 5 Servers Before You Buy

Is Chef the configuration management and automation tool for your operations team?...