For some emerging professionals, there’s a familiar comfort in being told you’re great at organizing, presenting, or communicating. It’s especially common for young women, starting almost as soon as we can hold a pencil; grade-school teammates urge us to “just write the report – you have good handwriting.” Praise from parents, teachers, and bosses so often centers around presentation and people skills that it’s easy to look right past our budding technical skills, both for others and for ourselves.
In my first internship as a computer science student, I was fortunate to rotate through a few different roles at a large software company: program manager, developer, and tester. The company wanted us to gain exposure to the different disciplines. During the program management phase, my natural aptitude for presentation and planning shined. I received high praise from my manager and my fellow interns looked to me to make the proposals, win the buy-in, and plan the work.
But when the development phase began, I started to shrink back. One of my teammates had such technical aptitude and strength of will that I felt intimidated and unqualified by contrast. At the end of the internship, my manager subtly reinforced what I’d already concluded: I was a natural PM. My technical skills were… not as outstanding. I did two more internships at that company as a PM and figured I’d point myself in that direction in my career. A few years as a developer were just a prerequisite– one I could fulfill in Atomic Object’s Accelerator program, which I joined promptly after graduation.
The Siren Call of Management
About two years into my tenure at Atomic, I was expressly invited to take the next step: I was asked if I’d like to start participating in professional development for a Delivery Lead role. I had long admired (and still admire) our Delivery Leads for their grace and skill in client interaction, and I thought it made a good fit for my natural talents.
Stepping into management feels like a rite of passage for some of us in tech. It’s particularly alluring when you’ve got a handle on the soft skills — when you can communicate clearly, organize a team, or talk shop with clients. People notice these skills, often early on, and they start nudging you in that direction.
I strongly considered accepting the call with just two years of professional software development under my belt; it felt like a fast track to leadership, and, importantly, my technical insecurity could finally be quieted.
It’s not just flattery that can make us sidestep into management; it’s also about where we feel secure. For those like me, dealing with technical uncertainties can be daunting. We’ve all felt it — the appeal of slipping back into something we know we’re good at, especially when the programming gets tough or the imposter syndrome hits hard.
The balm for that fear and doubt turned out not to be avoidance of the challenge, but finding an excellent mentor willing to light the way. Their nudging me to tackle the sprint’s toughest stories helped me push past discomfort and revive my underused technical skills. When I did so, I found that it wasn’t a lack of natural talent keeping me from a rich career as a developer; I was just getting in my own way. I had plenty of technical aptitude, but a deep aversion to the feeling of incompetence that washed over me when the learning didn’t come easily.
Training Your Left Side
It’s common to see athletes favor their dominant hand in training; putting in the reps on our strong side comes easily and feels good. Training the other side, even when it’s quite strong, still feels comparatively slow, weak, and frustrating.
Struggling through the hard bits of understanding a complex system or a new programming language isn’t a signal that development isn’t for you; it’s a natural part of growth. The weight of technical insecurity lightens significantly when you tackle it head-on, sticking with the difficult tasks until they become not-so-difficult.
The stuff that feels like a tough climb now — whether it’s working out how to integrate a new feature or getting your head around a complicated bug — becomes the very experience that makes you a more capable and confident developer and leader. It builds resilience and broadens your problem-solving toolbelt, making you an adaptable, agile puzzle piece on your teams.
Remember, you’re not turning away from your natural strengths by focusing on technical growth; you’re building toward becoming a more well-rounded professional. When, or if, you decide to explore the management track later, you’ll be bringing a wealth of technical know-how that’s going to deepen your understanding and effectiveness in any role you take on.
No Need to Rush
Let’s not mistake this as undervaluing delivery and management. Those roles are vital, challenging, and rewarding. Great product managers make everything in a project run smoother. But from where I sit now, I see the advantage of having built a rock-solid base in the technical trenches first.
Product management roles will still be there after you’ve buffed up your technical capacity. The field isn’t going anywhere. That’s the beauty of it — you don’t have to rush into management roles just because you can. You have the luxury to strengthen your technical chops first.
In for the Long Haul
In a recent conversation with an upcoming graduate facing the same dilemma, I saw a reflection of my past self. She had the communication chops, the strategic mindset, and the easy confidence in meetings that can make someone a standout candidate for management. I shared the advice I needed: “Your soft skills are solid — they’re part of you. Focus on building your tech skills to match.”
Skilled developers with great technical and leadership skills are a rare breed. You, an ever-presenter, planner, and report writer, have the raw materials to grow into one. Reassure yourself that the technical weakness you may feel early in your career, the challenges of wrapping your mind around complex logic, and the initial fear of diving deep into code — all of that is part of the journey. It’s valuable, and it’s worth sticking it out.
Think of it this way: sharpen your technical skills now, and you’ll be twice as valuable in any role you choose down the road—whether that’s leading from the feature development front lines or steering the ship as in management, leadership, and delivery. Stick with the tough parts. Build that technical prowess. The stuff that comes naturally? That’s in your back pocket, ready whenever you need it. Keep your tech game strong, and you’ll grow into a force to be reckoned with, whichever path you wander down.