TPM Stories — Hemamalini Kannan from Netflix

TPM Stories
4 min readDec 9, 2022

Interviewed by Iris Yuan

For the 2022 year-end edition of TPM Stories, we hear from three TPMs on their career journeys and their thoughts on leading a team of TPMs.

Hemamalini Kannan (she/her/hers) started at Netflix 9+ years ago where she led the execution of various cross-functional A/B tests from concept to launch on the Netflix streaming service. Currently, Hema is a Director of Technical Program Management for the Content and Studio side of Netflix where she spearheads various strategic cross-functional initiatives that provide innovative technical solutions from the initial pitch of an idea to the moment our members hit play.

Tell us about yourself! What domain area do you currently focus on at Netflix and how did you get there?

I was born in Chennai, India. I did my undergrad in Electrical and Electronics engineering in Chennai and moved to the US in 2001. I did my Masters in Computer Science at Fordham University. I currently work at Netflix as a Director of Technical Program Management for the Content & Studio space. I lead various strategic initiatives that are pivotal to Netflix. Throughout my career I have worn multiple hats, learnt and honed in on the skills that would help me do my job effectively. These skills and experience set the path for where I am and what I do today.

How has your previous experience starting out in QA helped in your current role?

Being a QA is not just about testing. It’s a lot more than that. This role has the potential to influence the technical strategy, product design and product quality. In this role, I was interfacing across product development disciplines to drive a feature forward with great quality. This ability to drive, influence and communicate is crucial to the technical program management function and that’s what has helped me immensely to be successful in this role.

What were the biggest challenges you faced starting out as a TPM?

Straddling the balance between zooming in and zooming out. Keeping the bigger picture in mind and diving into specific areas of the programs where there are emerging phenomena is a very crucial skill for the TPM function to scale. Staying only at high level (or) focusing only on the details will lead to blind spots and will be detrimental to the overall program.

What were some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on and why?

There are many! The strategic initiatives I have led have a wider impact across Netflix. Each one of these have taught me something new (domain knowledge, a new skill etc). Here are a few: Ads, Netflix Global launch, building various post production workflows, Image/artwork A/B test and Ratings.

As TPMs, we have to get work done, fill in gaps and deliver! Tell us about a situation where you have worn multiple hats and got things done.

I play a combination of technical product, program manager and a chief of staff. Typically for engineering initiatives I wear both the product and program manager hats. When it comes to driving and coordinating the annual strategic headcount planning, Quarterly business reviews, I wear the chief of staff hat.

What’s your philosophy on how you approach and grow your own career?

Be open minded. Always be ready to learn and implement what you learn where possible. Challenge yourself and get uncomfortable.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi

What advice do you have for new TPM managers? Any common challenges you see when managing a team of TPMs?

Look out for the opportunities where your TPMs can thrive and grow. Resource your TPMs on high impact, value and visibility programs.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I strive to follow a context not control approach, enable and empower individuals to do what they’re best at in order to achieve results. As a TPM, I have the opportunity to work with diverse skills sets and domain expertise and this helps with identifying the right resources to be mapped to specific areas of a program. I mentor and coach individuals to identify, utilize and build new strengths that would set them up for success in the initiatives they contribute to.

What are some techniques you use to build a diverse team?

There are a number of ways to build and evolve DEI efforts. Things that have worked well from my experience are : [1] Acknowledging D&I (diversity and inclusion) are two different things that is crucial to a company’s success and will be a continuous effort, [2] additive hiring, [3] being more self-aware, [4] honing in on listening and empathetic leadership, [5] creating leadership opportunities for individuals and [6] creating safe spaces for our coworkers to be open and share their thoughts.

TPMs — What’s your story? If you are interested in contributing or sharing your story, please reach out to Iris Yuan, Bhargavi Shankarananda, or Betty Luk!

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TPM Stories

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