TPM Stories — Javier Rodríguez Escolar from Expedia

TPM Stories
7 min readDec 9, 2022


Interviewed by Betty Luk

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.

Javier Rodríguez Escolar is currently a Senior Manager of AI/ML Technical Program Management at Expedia Group. He holds a master’s degree in Computer Engineering and has worked in a variety of roles including Software Engineer, Tech Lead, Engineering Manager and Product Manager. Born in Spain he’s been living in Switzerland since 2015. In his free time, he enjoys traveling to discover new places, but he also takes any single opportunity to go back to his home-city: Gijón (Asturias). He also loves team sports, especially soccer.

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

It was a long journey!

After finishing my MS in Computer Engineering, I joined the R&D department of a Spanish technological center called CTIC. I started as a software engineer in the mobile team, developing mobile services and apps mainly in Java. At the same time, I started my PhD and worked as an associate professor in the University. I think that was the period of my career when I learnt the most… I was extremely lucky to work with brilliant people and looking back I’m convinced that boosted my career.

Some years later I got a tech lead position, then my manager left and I was offered his position to manage the team of around 8 software engineers. Being a small company, the position was kind of a mix between Engineering Manager, Product Manager and TPM… at a small scale. And I loved it! At that time the company was moving from a project-oriented to a product-oriented mindset and we accepted the challenge as a team. We extracted common factors from all our last projects and decided to create our own product: a field service management platform using mobile apps. We didn’t know where to start and we had to do everything by ourselves: from requirements gathering to operations… but we were full of energy! I started reading a lot about digital product management and agile principles. I guess we made thousands of mistakes, but we made it work. And learnt a lot and had fun while doing it. Perfect recipe!

After 7 years working in Spain I wanted to have an experience abroad. I proposed dozens of countries to my wife (girlfriend at that time) and Switzerland seemed to be my first proposal that wasn’t in her blacklist. So here we are! I came to Lausanne in 2015 and I joined Nespresso as a Mobile Development Manager, which was almost identical to a Technical Program Manager role in other organizations. My first mission was to establish the ways of working and coordinate a team of software engineers developing new features on the mobile apps (Android, iOS) to manage the first Nespresso coffee machine enabled with Bluetooth. It was the first time for Nespresso trying to use agile principles and also the first step into the Internet of Things journey, so it was a great challenge not only on the technical side but also at organizational level. A couple of years later the Nespresso IT department was absorbed by Nestlé and I got promoted to the role of IoT Connected Devices Solution Lead / Product Manager to industrialize the execution of IoT programs across the group and create reusable SDKs, managing a team of software engineers, project managers and business analysts in 3 locations (Switzerland, Germany and Spain).

During my last years in Nestlé / Nespresso I started to get more and more interested in Artificial Intelligence and an ex-colleague from Nespresso convinced me to apply for a TPM position at Expedia Group to work on Machine Learning Programs. I joined EG in August 2019 and my first mission was to set up the operating model and coordinate a cross functional team of Data Scientists and Machine Learning Engineers productionizing critical ML models serving multiple teams within the organization: revenue prediction, demand forecasting, etc. I think we did a great job as a team and the operating model proved to be successful, so we were asked to replicate the same model to create additional teams on different domains, such as Revenue Performance and Lodging Pricing. In 2021 I moved to management and I’m now leading a team of Technical Program Managers specialized in AI/ML.

How has your previous experience in development and product management helped you in your current role?

It helped me a lot. As a TPM you need to have a 360 degree view on everything that is happening with your program and sometimes your previous experience gives you this kind of intuition to anticipate/mitigate risks. And also to have a good trade-off between short-term actions required on the day to day and the long-term vision of your products. Having played the role of software engineer gives you a better technical understanding. Having played the role of product manager helps you from the business and the customer point of view. Moreover, the overlap of required skills among these roles is quite significant. And in fact I like the 3 roles!

I often get this question: is it required to have experience as a developer to become a TPM? I don’t think it’s mandatory, but if you have it you can really take advantage of it. I often make the analogy between a TPM and a soccer coach. There are very good coaches that didn’t play at professional level. But the ones who did, they all use their experience to try to improve the performance of their teams.

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

I love technology and I’m passionate about teamwork, so the role of TPM is a perfect intersection. What I enjoy the most is probably bringing people together to deliver added-value software. When you have a team of diverse fully-committed individuals coming together as a team to release a great product… It’s just amazing! And I think TPMs play a key role in this aspect of creating high-performing teams. This is quite challenging, especially in big companies where you need to lead Programs without much authority while dealing with different reporting lines, different objectives, etc.

My TPM recipe to keep documentation up to date, what I call Link Based Answering (LBA):

What is the most memorable program you’ve driven as a TPM? What made it so memorable?

The first one that comes to my mind was my first program at Nespresso. We had to create a new section on the Nespresso mobile app to give access to the new Nespresso connected machine via Bluetooth. I think what made it memorable was not only the program itself but also the context that made it an important personal challenge. It was my first time living abroad, speaking other languages, working on an app with 5M+ downloads… and at the same time implementing cutting-edge technology for a relatively old FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) company. I still remember all the challenges related to differences on the Bluetooth implementation from different mobile manufacturers. We even ended up creating a dedicated lab full of coffee machine emulators to automate regression tests via Bluetooth.

What were the biggest challenges you faced starting as a TPM and how did you overcome them?

One of the main challenges for me is when you start working as a TPM in a new company. The beginning is always tough. During the first weeks you cannot add a lot of value and, at the same time, you need to absorb as much information as possible from everyone. That’s also true for other roles, but in my experience the challenge gets multiplied in the case of a TPM. It can take some time to gain the trust/respect of your team members and stakeholders. But when that happens and they start coming to you asking for help, then everything flows naturally. I was again extremely lucky in that aspect, and I always had colleagues supporting me from day one. I think the attitude is key, if people see you’re willing to do anything that is in your hands to help your team members and make the program succeed, then the onboarding is much faster.

Another challenge is what I call the “loneliness of a TPM”. Sometimes you see risks or issues that no one else seems to be able to see. Or maybe they do, but it’s just not in their role to care about them for the moment. When that happens you sometimes wonder to what extent you should act on them or not. In those situations I find it very useful to talk to other TPMs. We understand each other!

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

I think one of the main challenges is to manage a team of TPMs and not just a group of disconnected TPMs. Sometimes each TPM is working on completely different programs/domains so it gets difficult to create connections between them, even creating a team vision is quite challenging. But you need to do it if you want everyone in the team to grow and complement each other. I found this part much easier when I managed people working on the same product, even if they had different roles. My main advice would be to not underestimate the importance of the team and look for opportunities to have TPMs working together and helping each other. I think I learned a lot from my previous managers in that sense.

The second challenge for me is my curiosity to get details of the programs managed by my team without interrupting my team members too much or giving the impression I want to micromanage them. Giving autonomy to TPMs is crucial, so it’s all about finding the right moment to get more context/information. What I try to do is to jot down all the questions that come to my mind, organize them by program and map them to the best forum to get them answered (team meeting, 1:1, status report meetings, etc.). Accumulating several questions related to one program helps minimizing interruptions but also drives more successful discussions. When it comes to selecting the right forum I try to take into account individual styles and also team needs. For example sometimes you just feel that the full team would benefit from knowing more about a specific topic.

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!



TPM Stories

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