Kristina Kurcinka



Montana State University - Mechanical Engineering

Kristina Kurcinka has the kind of job that would make just about any woman — and man — stop and listen. And even cooler, she gets to get up and go to work every day in Taiwan! A footwear developer for Nike’s basketball division, Kristina helps make those very shoes seen on your feet come to life from just a sketch on a piece of paper. As a Nike employee for nearly five years, Kristina never thought she would be in the position she is now. She encourages you to step outside of your comfort zone and follow your dreams, because you never know where it will take you. In addition to her job, Kristina enjoys traveling, spending time with friends, being outside and cooking with people she loves.

If you never step out of your comfort zone, you will never get anywhere.

What has been your path so far to get you where you are today?

While working as an engineering intern for Xerox in Oregon one summer, I was able to connect with a woman who works at Nike who told me about the internship program at the company. The next year I applied for the Adrenaline Program, which is the internship program at Nike, and I was fortunate enough to get an internship as a footwear engineer. At the end of the summer, I was offered a full-time position as a bench engineer, and because I had graduated from school, I took it. I did that for a little more than one year, and then I took a job as a footwear developer I with the Jordan Brand. I worked for them for about three years and then just started this job in Taiwan as a footwear developer II for Nike basketball. If you had told me five years ago that I would be working in Taiwan developing shoes for Nike, I would have told you that you were crazy, as it was my expectation to try to coach collegiate golf and expand my education further in biomedical engineering. However, I would never trade the last five years.

How did you discover your current job?

My roommate at the time, who also works for Nike, was the one that told me about it originally. But all development positions at Nike are connected in some way, so eventually all news makes it through the grapevine. My boss and my mentor had also mentioned it to me as well, as they knew I had some interest in working overseas. I also was lucky enough to have a business trip to Taiwan scheduled at the time when the job was being posted, so I had the opportunity to talk with the leadership here in Taiwan to gain some additional details around the position and what it was like living in Taiwan, before going through the entire interview process.

Was there any one situation that helped you along your way?

I don’t think one situation in particular helped me along the way per se, but rather, my combined experiences of the last 4.5 years. I also was fortunate enough over the past few years to have worked with a variety of incredibly talented people, and I was mentored by an engineer that has been around the shoe industry since he was a kid. He set me up with some really great training opportunities both in the United States and overseas. I’ve also had the chance to take a few trips to our manufacturing partners with him as well. During those trips, the knowledge of shoe making that he was able to share with me was a huge factor in where I have ended up to date.

What is your typical day like? Does it ever change?

My typical day consists of answering e-mails and/or making phone calls back to Oregon (where the Nike World Headquarters is located) to connect with my teammates on the latest updates from their end. I then spend the rest of my day conversing and working with the Nike and factory teams here in Taiwan to help a designer’s sketches become reality. We work through manufacturing issues; we discuss fit problems and how they can be solved; we work through specific machine settings, mold designs, factory line layouts and set-ups; and we deal with a variety of other details that come up along the way. Some days we will have a video conference with our mass manufacturing teams in China as well. Some days we are in meeting rooms and other days we are down on the sample floor. Shoe making is still very much a handmade craft. Any one pair of shoes — from beginning to end -- is easily touched by more than 100 pairs of hands from initial sketch to the time it gets on the consumer’s feet. It takes a very large team of people all over the world to deliver the products that we do to consumers.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Getting to solve problems on a daily basis, especially if we are working through how to successfully bring a new innovation to retail. I also love being able to watch a shoe develop from just a sketch in a designer’s notebook to something that is actually being worn by people on the street, or athletes on television, and knowing that I was a part of that process. It is a pretty great feeling.

What is the most challenging part?

It’s a constant battle against timelines, budgets, reality and pushing the limits. As the world leader in athletic footwear, there is an expectation that we at Nike will ALWAYS work to push the limits and create something fresh, or something that many think is impossible. Balancing these expectations with timelines, budgets and creating the least amount of negative impact on the earth around us, is often the best and the most challenging part of the job. For me, the best projects are the ones that most people see as unlikely to be successful! I like a good challenge.

What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?

At the moment, the biggest sacrifice that I’ve made is that I gave up my life as I knew it, my friends, the comforts of home, the ability to speak the language, the food I know and love and the ease of everyday life, for a career and learning opportunity that I can only get by living outside of the U.S. at the moment. Everyone here and back home has been incredibly kind, and I’m forever grateful for all of their help, but it has definitely been an adjustment. Like any adventure and learning opportunity though, you have to give a little to get a little (or a lot). I firmly believe that if you never stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone, you will never get anywhere in life. I now get to meet new people, and I’m getting the chance to learn a new language, try new foods and experience a whole new culture.

What is one lesson you’ve learned in your job that sticks with you?

Working in development, and especially now that I’m living and working in Taiwan for the majority of my co-worker, English is their second language.  The biggest lesson that I’ve learned through communication is that a picture is worth a thousand words. The other really important lesson that I’ve learned is the importance of taking the time to get to know your coworkers as people outside of the office if possible.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?

I feel like one of the biggest struggles for women in the corporate world today is finding a way to become a well-respected team member, and more importantly, a well-respected leader, without doing it in a bullish or negative manner. It takes a special finesse to successfully climb up the corporate ladder and be a woman that people want to work with and for. Andrea Corradini and JoAn Scott are two women that have successfully worked their way into leadership positions in Nike, and both were great mentors for me in setting a positive example of how to continually strive to improve the business, embrace change and push both themselves and those around them to continually elevate their game.

Who are your role models?

That’s a tough question, because I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of influential co-workers, coaches, friends, family members, etc. in my life, but a few stick out.

-My grandmother for teaching me that you are never too old to stop learning new things.
-My parents for teaching me the importance of being respectful and chasing your dreams.
-My high school math teach, Mrs. Ihrke, who taught me that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it and work hard.
-My Nike and Portland family (this is a group of very good friends who mostly all work in or around Nike) that have taught me that life is not black and white, to fully embrace other cultures and to always seek ways to make yourself better both inside and outside the office.

Is there a quote or mantra that you live by?

I have two.

1. Do what you love and the money will come. (I got this from my mother)

2. If you never step outside of your comfort zone, you will never get anywhere.

What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?

There are so many great jobs and opportunities out there for women today. There also are a lot of great lessons to be learned from both friends and strangers in the world around us. Embrace it all! Know when to ask for help, learn from others, push yourself, make the best of the opportunities that are given to you, be respectful, trust yourself and don’t be afraid to take chances! And most importantly, don’t forget to say “thank you” along the way.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

If there is something that interests you in life, find a way to go after it and make your dreams happen!