TPM Stories — Carolina Carvajal from Celonis

TPM Stories
5 min readSep 12, 2023

Interviewed by Betty Luk

Meet Carolina! In her own words: “I like to see how a design in paper takes shape and ends up on a result, that’s why I found my passion on managing projects. I am originally from Costa Rica, where I got my bachelor as Industrial Engineer, however I was mostly working in the Software world, due to that I did my master degrees on Business Intelligence in the Universitat de Barcelona. Currently working in Celonis as Sr. Technical Program Manager in Munich, Germany”

Tell me about your career journey — how has your career transformed and how did you become a TPM?

One of my first jobs was managing service contracts at Hewlett-Packard, my main responsibilities were to review the SOWs (statement of work) and keeping track of the engineer hours to make sure that we don’t overrun the price and the contract deliverables and commitments were met. I think there is where I got the first glance of what managing projects was about. The role was very junior and didn’t give me a lot of run to take decision, since the work and the working mode was pretty standard. That’s when I started thinking about Program Management as a career, at that time I was finishing my bachelor and got a new job in VMware, the role was called Project Business Analyst. However the role was more similar to project management — I started with minor product releases and eventually started managing major releases, merge and acquisition and operational programs. During that time I got my PMP certification and started my Master Degree. I got the opportunity to move to Munich as a Project Manager for VMware, was on that role for about 2 years, and during that time I learned about Cloud computing and how the industry was changing. I was in a very comfortable position and was pretty much familiar with how the company worked and the type of projects, and since I was living in Germany I started looking for a job in a Germany company. In February 2020 I got an offer from a German Fintech, Wirecard — my journey in that company was rather short asthe company filed for bankruptcy on June 2020. I ended up leading the projects to close operations in different countries which tested my soft skills. It was a challenge to convince people to do the work since the level of motivation was pretty low, but I was able to manage with a positive attitude and complete the programs. On September that year without a job and in a foreign country I decided to start studying the language and took an intensive course. However destiny had me on a different path — around late October a recruiter reached out asking me if I would be interested in a Project Manager position. I took a look at the company and loved that this company was doing one of my passions, process and optimization + automation in Software. I applied for the role and got it, and that’s where my TPM journey in Celonis started, back then there were only 3 of us. The company was in a growing phase and it was clear that there was a need for TPM, however at that time the role was new and there was no clear understanding in the organization on what it was about. Multiple times people thought I was a product manager, and during the first year I was involved in all type of projects, including compliance, operations, tools implementation, accessibility — you name it. That was key to start shaping the role within the organization and show the value on having TPMs, and for me to get a bigger picture of the development organization. At the end this allowed us to get more people in the team and structure better the support of TPMs within technical domains, which allow us to specialize in an area and get the knowledge to generate the most value possible. Today I am mostly working on Infrastructure programs and it has been a challenge to move to a very technical area but that’s what keeps me motivated — I like to learn new things and understand the programs I am managing.

What do you enjoy the most about being a TPM? Where do you think a TPM can add the most value?

For me, the TPM role is a combination of good technical understanding plus great soft skills (communication, organized, management). One of the things I most enjoy of my role is working with people from different areas, understand/learn about their work and how they interact with each other. This is key for the role so you can make the right call outs, support your program team to remove blocks and taking actions. One of the main challenges a TPM has is to lead and influence without authority, you depend on the relationships that you have built and your leadership skills most of the time — that is a part I enjoy.

My favorite quotes are “you can’t improve what what you don’t measure” Peter Drucker and “Done is better than perfect” Sheryl Sandberg

You worked in different places around the globe. What are some unique challenges and learnings from working in these different geographies and cultures?

At the beginning when you are starting to work with a different culture to yours there is always an adjustment that needs to take place to get familiar with their way of work. My main learning has been to take time to learn and understand about the differences and background, their motivations and priorities with an open mind and adapt the way of work to have a good and collaboration between the program team.

On example is that American colleagues are commonly more willing to dominate a conversations and are way positive, on the other hand European are most pragmatic in the way they express themselves, when you have a program where you will be working with both cultures it is important to calibrate that, in a way that both opinions are integrated for successfully running the program.

What is the most memorable program that you have driven as a TPM? What made it so memorable?

I will say the first major release of a product I managed completely end to end. The program team was composed of resources located in US, India, Ireland, Japan and Costa Rica. The preparation was a challenge due to timezones, also the cultures were very different but at the end all were looking for the same goal but also everybody was representing their interest. That was a good learning for me, to learn how to approach different parts of the organization. This program was the most memorable for me because it was the time where I really felt that Idrove the whole program end to end and in some way was like my official kick off as a TPM.

As a TPM, what’s your approach when you get started on a new program?

I try to investigate about the program that I will be managing, especially the technical side if there is something new that I need to get familiar with, and also assess who will be the program team, understand their motivations and interests and how to approach them for better collaboration

What advice would you give someone who is considering pivoting into a TPM role?

I would recommend to get familiar with one area of a technology and get all the knowledge that you can, that will be key to be a successful TPM, and of course you need to like work with people and facilitate collaboration between them.

TPMs — What’s your story? If you are interested in contributing or sharing your story, please reach out!

--

--

TPM Stories

TPM Stories is a collective of experiences and journeys featuring Technical Program Managers across the industry.