How One Software Developer’s Leadership Aspirations Led Her to Graduate School

Written by Amanda Wicks • Updated on

Sneha Natekar believed a master’s degree program in engineering management from the University of Colorado Boulder would help her build the fundamentals to pursue a managerial role.

[Featured image] University of Colorado Boulder master's student Sneha Natekar stands in front of some trees

Growing up in Canada, Sneha Natekar had access to a wealth of experiences that fueled her interest in science and technology. “There were a lot of science camps and related things to encourage girls to get into STEM,” she recalled. “I was very fortunate. My parents enrolled me in a lot of that stuff.” There were also TV shows. At home, she’d come across programs like Bill Nye the Science Guy and The Magic School Bus, which stoked a growing fire. 

Natekar’s early exposure to STEM led her to enroll in computer science classes at her local high school, where she found her fit. “I realized I enjoyed this—that this would be a career I would find rewarding,” she said. After she graduated from university with her bachelor’s in computer science, Natekar had a job lined up at the smartphone company Blackberry, but even as she got started in software development, she knew she wanted to eventually rise to a leadership role.

Many tech companies categorize their employees along one of two tracks: individual contributors who regularly produce deliverables or manage projects, and managers who oversee people or teams. “I’m now at the point where I’ve worked as an individual contributor for over a decade,” Natekar said. “I’ve learned different technologies and different projects.” She was ready to grow in a new direction. 

Making the leap from IC to management can often require a combination of mentorship and stretch projects that encourage an applicant to develop certain skills before formally moving into a leadership role. But Natekar wanted more foundational training first—and the credential that came along with it—so she began exploring online master’s degrees

At first, she considered earning her Master of Business Administration (MBA). However, the degree didn’t make sense because she specifically wanted to work as an engineering leader, and she didn’t want to get mired down by a lot of finance classes. “In my case, I had a very specific career path that I wanted to pursue,” she explained. “That helped me filter out what degree and program to look for.”  

Natekar ultimately enrolled in the University of Colorado Boulder’s Master of Engineering in Engineering Management, which clicked for a few reasons. As a resident of the Bay Area in California, she knew CU Boulder by its reputation in the tech industry and was aware of the networking opportunities that might be available to her. “There are internships and access to different companies,” she said. “It’s an extremely well-connected university for companies here.”

She also got the chance to meet with a handful of faculty members at a meet-and-greet, where she asked questions about the degree experience. “Those were the three things that helped me out: the career resources, the professors, and the ability to connect with them,” she said. 

Natekar began the ME-EM program by working through the Project Management pathway courses. Even though she was familiar with the subject, and Agile in particular, she learned more about the theory behind the concept. "It was like, 'Great, I’ll get a little refresher on exactly how this is supposed to work." More than that, she found she was able to take what she was learning back to her team. "I appreciated the industry relevance."  

Since her high school days, Natekar has felt in sync with engineering as a career track. Learning more formally about leadership, especially in the Principles of Leadership courses taught by teaching assistant professor Ron Duren, has only reinforced that trajectory. "Professor Duren talks about how you’ve got to find your passion,” she recalled. “It was great because it wasn't just an Oprah talk about 'go chase your dream,’ it’s ‘here are actual, effective methods on how to go do that.’”

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