Being a PM is good for your career health

by Curt 30. April 2010 20:08

Stop hiding under your desk clutching your WPF manual.  That new project manager position may be just right for you.

I know its hard letting go of manipulating bits into elegant solutions, but a PM role will evolve your skill-set and likely lead to other opportunities.  Besides, transitioning back to a developer is not entirely out of reach. (You’ll probably be a better developer as a result.)

The reason I’m asking you to consider a PM role, is that it forces you to develop competencies that are typically at the other end of the spectrum for a developer.   Skills like communication, dealing with lots of ambiguity, and acquiring deeper business knowledge are not often practiced as a developer.

Let’s take a look at each one of these and how they can lead to something I know you’ve always thought about…  …starting your own business.


Improved Communication


You speak C#, Java, Python, Object C, C++ with ease, but communicating with humans can be a bit imprecise.  Don’t roll your eyes thinking I’m stereotyping developers as impersonal.  Let’s face it, programming is a solitude activity and developers just don’t get lots of practice interacting with others.

As a PM, you'll have to interact with people at various levels and departments.  Over time you’ll gain competence conveying concepts without littering your language with technical jargon. 

On the written communication side, you’ll get more practice than you want as you sift through the reams of daily email.  On some days, you’ll spend more time in your email client than you did in your IDE as a developer.    But, through the daily ritual of clearing your inbox your writing will get more succinct and straight to the point.


Dealing with ambiguity


As a developer you flourished in a world where definitive solutions existed.  You may spend hours tracking down a bug, but a fix existed.

In the PM domain, there’s such a lack of explicitness that it makes most new PMs uncomfortable.  Clients want a solution, but they can’t tell you what it is.  UI developers need to know the best design, Business analysts need to know if the specification meets the requirements, and upper management needs to know how long something is going to take (the worst one of all). 

 At first, your prior developer background will try to fight the ambiguity.   You’ll delay decisions until you have enough data, but the clarity you’re looking for will never materialize. 

You’ll experience some painful situations, where you’ll refuse to act until you have enough data.  Overtime, however, you’ll learn that a decision is better than no decision.  Out of necessity you’ll eventually learn to make a call without having perfect information.


Gaining business domain knowledge


Through your endeavors as a PM you’ll pick up a great deal of business domain knowledge.  When combined with your technical know-how you’ll become a rare and invaluable resource. 

Having the ability to understand both technology and how it solves business challenges is not a combination that’s commonly found in either technical or business staff.  Having this unique skill-set will make you more visible to upper management.  If your goal is to get promoted into a more strategic business role, then being a technical PM is the right path to gain the requisite skills. 

Even if you have no desire to join the ranks of ivory tower managers, the constant brainstorming will get you out of the mindset of focusing on technology that’s cool or is the latest and greatest.


Skills to start your own business


The skills you learn as a PM doesn’t always have to lead to management.  If that’s not what you want, then why not do what you’ve always wanted.  Start your own software company.

I know you have a secret stash of software product ideas and maybe even one or two half-baked projects.  Leveraging your experience as a PM will improve your chances of executing a software business, even if you’re the only employee.

In addition to the 3 skills I’ve highlighted there are several others that will greatly assist your personal  start-up endeavor.


  • You’ll have a better understanding of pain points in business.
  • You’ll have skill in delegating work.  (Even if you have no employees you’ll likely be assisted by external contractors.)
  • You’ll have the unique combination of business and technology skills.
  • You’ll posses experience managing budgets.


Career | Management

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