Interviewed by Bhargavi Shankarananda
Three TPMs share their experience in our mid-2022 edition of TPM stories — including being your authentic self, and transitioning from IC to management.
Meet Suse Goericke! In her own words: “Originally from East Germany, I’ve lived in New York since 2009. In my spare time, I travel, tend to my plants, spend time with my 5 pets, and volunteer as an animal rescuer and foster in my Brooklyn neighborhood. If I wasn’t a TPM Director at Squarespace, I’d live somewhere warm and green and probably run an animal shelter. Until that day, you can find me on LinkedIn. Reach out — I’d love to connect!”
Tell us about yourself!
I’ve been leading the TPM organization at Squarespace since early 2018. In my time at Squarespace, I’ve focused on building a diverse, inclusive, equitable team that delivers excellent work while also helping each individual team member find purpose and fulfillment — at work and outside of it. I currently manage three TPM managers, and they manage 17 Individual Contributors. Being a manager for this team has been the most rewarding career experience of my life!
How has your career transformed over the years?
I started out in communications and PR and moved into project management a couple of years into my career. Those roles became more and more technical, and I eventually joined HBO as a TPM. After 5 years there, I landed my current role at Squarespace.
I always really enjoyed program management: bringing together teams, organizing work, shipping great products. At the same time, it often felt like something was missing — mostly, I wanted to have more of a cultural influence and forge a closer connection between ICs and management. So when I got the opportunity to lead a team at Squarespace, I jumped on it! The funny thing is that I didn’t interview for a manager role. I was actually approached for an IC role. Once I spoke to the hiring manager about the problems he needed help solving, I told him, “You need a manager. If I was that manager, here is what I’d do.” A day later he called me back and offered me a job leading the whole team. When I accepted the role and met my incredibly talented teammates, I felt like I’d finally arrived in a career that I loved.
What have been some of the biggest learnings in your journey?
I’ve been doing this job for over a decade, met many inspiring people, and worked on a lot of great teams. Let me take my best shot at distilling the most important lessons!
- If my team wins, I win.
- Management isn’t a one-person job. I love working as a team with my direct reports and the ICs on our team.
- Progress takes time and requires us to get out of the all-or-nothing mindset. There’s lots of gray in our work. Let’s focus our progress on what we can control, and work with others to do the same!
- Keeping up the quality bar is crucial to meet expectations. We should always cut scope before lowering the bar on quality.
- If I’ve done my job well, I might one day work for someone who currently reports to me.
- People on any team are motivated differently; some via intrinsic motivators (purpose, learning, etc.) and some via extrinsic motivators (titles, money). I’ve found that it’s important to convey the sustainability of intrinsic motivators. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push for fair compensation and titles, but be aware that intrinsic motivators can be satisfied every day whereas promotions and raises happen once a year.
- For me, it’s crucial that I can show up as myself at work. Pretending to be someone I’m not takes up valuable energy that I could spend on improving myself and my work.
You have been an Individual Contributor (IC), a Manager of TPMs and now leading a TPM Org! How has growth varied in each of these roles?
I firmly believe that spending a good number of years as an IC is critical: learning about the work hands-on, understanding the business, building relationships, and observing management. I also think that management isn’t for everyone. In fact, if someone is a great IC and enjoys that work, they should never be forced into management just so they can progress their career. A skilled IC is just as valuable as a manager, and their impact can often be felt just as widely in the organization.
A lot of my growth in both IC and manager roles has relied on a similar skillset: Unblocking others, managing stakeholder expectations, communicating clearly…it’s the scope that differs.
As an IC, my focus was on myself and my product and engineering team. I sharpened my program management, technical, and communication skills, and I learned how to work with software development and product teams.
As a manager, my growth is much more focused on my TPM team and company leadership. I prioritize building and growing teams (career development, hiring, compensation, strong team culture, etc.) and expand my impact by coaching my direct reports to do the same. I’m also always mindful of identifying other leaders on our team — whether they’re ICs or budding managers. Lastly, I focus on being the bridge between company leadership and my team, so I can set up everyone for success by giving them the context they need to do their work.
What were some of the challenges in your transition from an IC to a manager role? What was your mantra to surmount them?
Yes, imposter syndrome is real, and most leaders I know feel it regularly. That said, I found the transition to be natural. When I have doubts about being good enough for my job, I come back to how much I care about my team and our success. And luckily, the team has proven over and over what great work we do and how much we’ve helped Squarespace. I remember when I was promoted to director, my first thought (after “oh wow!”*) was of my team, and how good it felt for all of us to be recognized as an org of the same stature as any other org that already had a director at the helm.
*I definitely used a different phrase to convey my excitement.
What has been your approach to raising the bar of the TPM Org?
Raising the bar is a collective effort. It’s important to ask lots of questions — if one person doesn’t understand something, chances are that someone else doesn’t either. We also often review each other’s work, do knowledge shares, and have team discussions. And to come back to what I said earlier: You can compromise on scope, but you shouldn’t compromise on quality. That doesn’t mean everything has to be done perfectly — it’s about putting the right amount of effort into each task, getting another set of eyes on it, polishing the work, and then moving on to the next thing.
One area where my quality bar is very high is promotions. My managers and I spend the whole year gathering information, and several months before the promotion packets are due, we write them up, peer review, and review with our leadership (who eventually make the decisions). Promotions are crucial to our teammates’ long-term careers, and they require the utmost care.
What is your favorite part of being a TPM? Where do you think a TPM can add the most value?
I recently did the Insights Discovery course. The biggest takeaway was that routine is the real enemy for me. What I love most about being a TPM is that no two days are the same and there is always more to learn and new challenges to overcome!
In addition to bringing technical and organizational skills to the table, we as TPMs can add the most value by being curious and empathetic. TPMs unearth dependencies and remove them before they become a problem. And we can focus team members simultaneously on long-term goals and immediate next steps — an energizing combination!
What advice would you give to someone who is considering becoming a TPM, or your former self?
- Take your time and learn as much as you can. Find a product or company you believe in. It’s going to make your work a lot more fulfilling.
- You’ll get to the place that is meant for you. Be kind along the way. You’ll never know what that other person is going through (or whether you’re going to meet again).
- Leadership can get lonely. Find your people and cheer each other on.
How would you characterize your TPM or leadership style? How has this helped you in your current role?
The idea of Radical Candor has been misused at times, but I still believe in the core idea: Care personally, challenge directly. I’d adjust that motto to: Care deeply, challenge directly and kindly, and ask a lot of questions.
Asking questions helps me understand a problem from many perspectives, and I hope it encourages others to be inquisitive, as well.
Challenging directly and kindly means that I don’t spend too much time beating around the bush while also keeping honoring the perspectives and feelings of others.
Caring deeply means that I’m invested in the work, the team, and the business. I constantly look to connect the three and hope that inspires others to do their best work while taking good care of themselves.