There’s No Secret Formula to Becoming a Confident Leader. It Takes Practice and Patience.
No matter how talented you know yourself to be, self-doubt can plague anyone who steps into a leadership role at work—especially if you’ve switched careers. Take it from Tina Schurr, who pivoted from being a technical business analyst to holding a java engineering manager position: Confidence as a leader takes time and experience.
“Just like anything, confidence in your own leadership skills takes patience and practice. I would have doubts about the veracity of any leader who claimed otherwise,” says Schurr. “Gaining confidence in my new role took a lot of time, repeated successes, and learning from failures.”
In her managerial position at consulting firm CapTech, Schurr works with a quick-thinking team to oversee cloud infrastructure and release fixes on the fly. She cites the people she works with as a key component to her success. “My current team is made of up people who are honest with me and step up when they have expertise I don’t,” she says. “I’m not afraid to disagree with others as long as I have a reason and can explain, and they give me the same courtesy.”
Here, Schurr talks about what she likes most about working in system integration, how she applies her skills to nonprofit work, and what tech companies can do to advance more female leaders.
Tell us about your career journey from management consultant to system integration, and what inspired you to pursue a career in IT consulting?
My first job out of college was as a consultant, and I loved the work but not the travel. I then became a full-time systems administrator, but quickly felt stuck in the day-to-day routine and did not see a way to expand the scope of my work or change roles. Before I left my former employer I was looking into getting a computer science degree to give me more opportunities.
When I found CapTech, I liked the idea of being able to combine consulting and working mostly in the same city (I was willing to travel, just not every project all the time). I worked as a management consultant for about a year and a half at CapTech when my project came to an end. There was another large project spinning up that I was interested in but it needed Java programmers and had already filled the roles of the management consultants they needed. After discussing with my coach and CapTech leadership, I spent the next eight weeks studying Java and spinning up a basic app to prove that I understood general architecture and could build an application in Java.
I was placed on a project with a senior developer who had a proven track record of working with new developers. He invested time in filling gaps in my knowledge of being a developer and became my mentor. I found through all of this that I get much more fulfillment out of making an application than doing analysis, but my time as a management consultant has also given me skills other developers are lacking. I am also able to fill in gaps on projects when needed because of my background.
What appealed to you about working at CapTech?
Initially I was attracted to CapTech because it was small, consulting, and seemed to be a solution for the struggles I was having balancing personal and work life. After working in industry, I wanted to return to consulting. I liked the idea of not being a number (as I often felt at the large companies I worked at). I liked having the ability to change projects and jobs, so I never felt stuck in one role (even if the role was multiple years). I was willing to travel, but didn’t want to travel all the time so CapTech seemed like a good fit.
As I interviewed and talked to employees, I felt more at home than at other companies I had interviewed with. One of the last interviewers asked me why I had included the word ”integrity” on my resume out of everything else, and we discussed why I felt it was important and was looking for a place where integrity mattered. Picking out one of the words that mattered most to me out of everything on my resume made me feel that CapTech’s values would match my own.
What are you responsible for in your role?
I am currently a technical lead on an agile team working with other teams to deliver a new application to the client. Our team takes on features of the application to create. I work with design and the product owner to break development into sensible blocks, and the scrum master to plan out sprints. I work with the team of developers to help them figure out problems, and with other teams to coordinate releasing the features we’ve developed. My team builds and manages cloud infrastructure, and releases fixes as needed.
What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?
I’m working with a nonprofit that I’ve worked with previously on their technology road plan. We interview employees and make recommendations on how they can better leverage their technology investments to expand their clientele. It excites me to be able to use what I know to help a nonprofit in my community and have an impact on how many people they can offer services to.
What do you think companies can do to advance women in the field of System Integration?
I think women are often overlooked on teams, or taken for granted. Don’t assume anything about women’s aspirations. Reach out and ask them what they want, and where they see themselves going. That will enable you to help them in the right direction. If you are a woman, speak up about what you want and be direct. This will help you find mentors and allies. By telling people I wanted to become a technical lead, even though I didn’t accomplish this immediately I had team leads who helped me along the way to develop the skills I needed. When I had the opportunity to step up and take over a lead role, my former team lead was aware that I wanted the role and had coached me so I was ready. He recommended that I take the role instead of finding someone else from outside the project. Overall the transition was smoother, despite losing an excellent team lead as I was already familiar with the project and team.
What is the hardest part about being a woman in a leadership role and what has helped you succeed?
My own self-doubt has been the hardest part about taking a leadership role. A previous job’s culture made me more cautious and question myself. Since being on a new career path I have had my fair share of imposter’s syndrome ever since starting, and I have always felt like I needed to start from the ground up to prove myself. I think it's just really important to be honest with yourself and reflect on both your successes and your failures.
What advice do you have for other women who are striving to achieve leadership roles?
Don’t change who you are to become a leader. Even if you are not the exact match to what others see as “leader potential,” even though others may take longer to understand, you will be happier and a better leader by not pretending to be someone you are not. Speak up and be direct about your intentions so there is no misunderstanding about your goals. Work on your empathy because being able to understand someone else’s views is a powerful tool.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
I switched careers. Going from an analyst to a systems integration leader was one of the things I’ve done that I’m most proud of. I was able to spend enough time focused on learning that I was able to understand and be productive when placed on a client. I formed a mentoring relationship with one of my team members that turned into a friendship. When I asked questions he never gave me answers outright, but gave me enough information to get past what stumping me and I spent time understanding what it was that I was doing instead of copy/pasting. Never asking the same question twice was how I was able to continually learn and build my skills.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
As a team lead, your job is to make sure everyone else on the team has what they need to complete their development work. This perspective on servant-leadership really hit home with me, and having this perspective has made me better at my job. When I’m unsure of what my priorities should be, knowing my job is to clear roadblocks makes the whole team run better.