Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Career Building

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to career building as an independent contractor in IT.

Swearing at Work? What’s the Big @#$%* Deal?

Swearing at Work? What's the Big @#$%* Deal?

Do you curse? Do you swear when you’re mad, use profanity when chatting with friends or drop the odd f-bomb just because? Most people blurt out some sort of foul language occasionally and that’s ok… most of the time. There’s nothing wrong with swearing in a private setting or in a social atmosphere with the right friends, but where do you draw the line?

There are often questions about whether or not profanity is appropriate in professional settings, specifically the workplace. Given those questions, it’s no surprise that there have been a number of studies researching the effects of cursing, and the results differ:

  • A 2012 CareerBuilder study found that 64% of employers think less of an employee who regularly uses curse words and 57% would be less likely to promote that person. On the other side of the coin, 51% of employees said they swear in the office and half of them do so in front of their boss.
  • Another study by researchers at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain revealed that swearing at work can be beneficial because it enables the development of personal relationships within a team. It also acts as a stress relief which has direct effects on health.
  • Wrike also took a look at the perceptions of swearing at work. In 2016, their research discovered that while more than half of respondents swear, 41% found it was too casual and unprofessional, yet 33% would not consider working in an organization where swearing is strictly banned.

It’s clear that there are risks to spicing up your vocabulary in a professional setting but the choice is ultimately yours. Before you get too wild, though, there are some considerations if you want to land an IT contract and keep it:

  • The organization’s culture. As an independent contractor you are your own boss, but it is still mandatory to respect the policies and culture of your clients while on site and interacting with their employees. If the environment is not one that accepts swearing, then you should also choose to set it aside.
  • The context. Swearing can be linked to insults and bullying which must be eliminated from the behaviour of any ethical IT consultant. However, depending on the context of how words are used, it can enhance a message, be encouraging, or lighten the mood. Your job is to consider the context before opening your mouth.
  • The situation. Swearing should be reserved for casual settings around people with whom you have a good relationship. A job interview with a recruiter you just met or a serious client meeting with senior executives you don’t know are not the place to throw in your fancy adjectives.
  • The audience. As noted in the previous point, it’s important to get to know the people around you before becoming too liberal with your potty mouth. But just because you know them does not give you carte blanche. Respect those who prefer a clean conversation. If you’re uncertain of their style, err on the side of caution.
  • The medium. A good rule of thumb is to never write anything that can be taken out of context and used against you. Inappropriate language tops that list. Social media, email and even instant messaging can all come back to bite you in the… , so it’s encouraged not to type any curse words at all.

While we don’t need to provide examples, there is a scale where some words are more accepted than others, while other words should never be muttered. Similarly, because everybody has different cultures, backgrounds and experiences, some words are perceived to be worse by some than they are to others. It is up to you to distinguish and judge what you can say. If you are ever unsure, then its best you find other ways to spice up that conversation and leave the swearing for when you get home.

Create Your Own Happiness as an Independent Contractor

Create Your Own Happiness as an Independent ContractorGoing into business for yourself and becoming an IT contractor is a no-brainer for many technology professionals. While some take the leap and quickly realize they were happier as an employee, many others love the flexibility, benefits and challenges that come with the independent contracting lifestyle. Regardless of how you’re employed, happiness is in your control and it goes beyond finding the right job with the right company.

Chris Christoff, co-founder of MonsterInsights, recently wrote an article for Inc. where he highlighted the importance of a positive attitude at work. He references a Harvard Medical School study explaining how the right attitude will keep a steady heart rate, reduce stress, and improve your happiness. And most importantly, he notes it is only you who can change your mindset. Christoff provides 4 tips: Practice Gratitude, Help Your Colleagues, Stop Complaining, and Smile Often.

Of course, a positive attitude will be difficult to keep if you dislike your job. As we’ve noted, independent contracting presents an opportunity for IT pros to build work-life balance and that should lead to more happiness. According to this article on FastCompany and written by John Rampton, though, there are 10 myths to Work-Life Balance that set false expectations, stress out entrepreneurs and set you up for failure, inevitably making you resent your career path:

  1. Myth: It’s actually about achieving balance.
    Truth: There’s no such thing as “balance” but instead, it’s integration or Be fulfilled everywhere.
  2. Myth: Life needs to be compartmentalized.
    Truth: It’s not possible to divide everything evenly. Some days have more work, others have more leisure.
  3. Myth: You can have it all.
    Truth: There are always trade-offs and sometimes you have to give something up to have it better somewhere else.
  4. Myth: Time management is the answer.
    Truth: Don’t trust outdated time management tips that say you can go completely off-grid every night.
  5. Myth: Technology will give you more free time.
    Truth: Technology is an assistant, but you still need to put in effort.
  6. Myth: It’s what employees care about most.
    Truth: Those you work with or manage often prioritize meaningful work over the flexibility of their location and hours.
  7. Myth: The early bird catches the worm.
    Truth: Waking up early doesn’t necessarily lead to productivity. And working late isn’t bad either.
  8. Myth: You never have to work during off-hours.
    Truth: IT contractors especially do not have this luxury. If you need to (or want to) be working, then you work.
  9. Myth: The less you work, the happier you’ll be.
    Truth: “It’s not about how many hours you work or do something you love. It’s about the quality of how you’re spending your time.”
  10. Myth: Everything has to be scheduled.
    Truth: Schedule important tasks but leaving gaps in your schedule opens up for flexibility and spontaneity.

Whatever your role, how do you maintain happiness in your work life? Do you agree with the advice provided in the referenced FastCompany and Inc. articles? As usual, we love your feedback, so please share your comments in the section below.

Career-Growth Advice for Employees That Also Applies to Independent Contractors

Career-Growth Advice for Employees That Also Applies to Independent ContractorsDo you ever look at your clients’ employees and think about how much easier they have it? Employees already have deductions removed from their pay, they can take advantage of company perks and benefits, they enjoy more job security and they need not worry about career advancement. Well… kind of.

While employees can usually lean on their boss for skills development and career progression, those who rely solely on the company are doomed to fall behind compared to those who take matters into their own hands. Similar to being an independent contractor, full-time employees must take charge of their own career growth to open up new opportunities and build their earning potential.

A recent article by Hanna Morgan and published by U.S. News provides tips for employees to do just that and much of the advice can be passed along to independent contractors:

Provide Solutions: The article starts by recommending an employee address their manager and recommend ideas to improve the organization’s processes and save money. This is a wise idea, but in a different context. Given you are your own manager, schedule time to reflect on your business processes such as accounting, resume-writing, and job searching and see if anything you’ve always done the same way can be re-thought.

Learn New Skills for Career Growth: We frequently ask job seekers not to apply to jobs for which they are not qualified. But that does not mean you shouldn’t still look at them. In fact, when any contract opportunity is appealing to you, thoroughly understand the required skills and technologies… then go out and get them! This also means identifying common soft skills that you should improve upon.

Expand Your Personal Brand: The IT contracting world is often transactional. You work for a client, you complete the contract, and you all move on to future business. Unless you made an outstanding impression, your client is not going to tout your brand through the industry to make you the most in-demand contractor of the city. This is something you must take into your own hands. The recommendations this article makes to employees in a similar predicament are also perfect for independent contractors: update your LinkedIn profile and resume with the narrative you want, and look for opportunities to write or speak about your skills.

Network for Career Advancement: The advice provided by Morgan in this section is so perfect, we’re going to quote her directly: “Think of networking as information gathering. It helps you learn about the challenges other workers face and it gives you the opportunity to talk about what you have learned. If you are networking-averse, keep in mind that all you are asking for when you meet with someone is advice, information or recommendations. Don’t forget to keep in touch with past colleagues and classmates. Maintaining these relationships helps you feel connected and makes networking more enjoyable. Creating time in your hectic schedule for networking allows you to meet people who can help spread the word about you and your personal brand.

Find Mentors for Career Growth: Yes, you need to adapt to changing trends and technologies, but there is no need to re-invent the wheel in IT contracting. Seek out an experienced, successful contractor who knows the game and ask them to be a mentor. They can provide career guidance, motivation and serve as a role model.

You May Have to Move On: Obviously you will need to move on to a new client eventually, that is the entire premise behind contracting. Independent contractors experience other forms of “moving on” when change is required. Should you start working with different recruiters? Should you try a new industry or even a new skill? Perhaps there are better opportunities in a complete different city.

The benefits of independent contracting come with a number of struggles that employees do not have to face, so it’s nice to recognize the ones everybody shares. In all cases, having a plan and then working on that plan is the only way to ensure life takes you to where you want to go. Otherwise, you will find yourself working on boring contracts at lower rates, when you know you have the potential to do so much more.

Fix the Poor Attitudes and Negativity That are Destroying Your Project

Picture this — you just started a project with a client you’ve been looking to get into for years. The rate is fantastic, the contract is the perfect length, the work is exciting and the entire experience is going to look amazing on your resume. But when you meet your team for the first time, you quickly learn that it is a toxic mess filled with negative attitudes, childlike behaviour and terrible moods.

As this detailed infographic from Quill.com points out, there are a variety of behaviours and attitudes that can foster such an environment. Not only do they lower productivity, they destroy the morale in a team and drastically set a project back. Fortunately, the infographic also has some great ideas for both dealing with bad attitudes, and also preventing yourself from falling into the same trap.

Fix the Poor Attitudes and Negativity That are Destroying Your Project

Evaluating Your Career and How It Fits Into the Gig Economy

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

I saw the following graphic and it struck me as being a very smart way to look at one’s career and potentially do some “life/career-mapping”. There have been many articles written about whether contracting is right for you, including many independent contracting-related posts on the Talent Development Centre. It seems to me, this graphic from linpernille.com captures the gist of it:

Qualities of the Perfect Job

The “gig economy” is common fodder for news, blogs and posts. Staffing Industry Analysts estimates a 6% growth this year and another 6% next year, with the participation rate (in the USA) being 31% due primarily to the growing number of people who have side jobs and businesses. And, if you are reading this, there is a strong likelihood that you fall somewhere on the spectrum of Gig Workers.

If you are feeling content and comfortable contracting or completing temporary work, it is likely that you are hitting on all three aspects shown: you are good at what you do, you enjoy doing it and there is someone pleased to be paying you for your efforts. It’s like a 3-legged stool — you need all three legs for it to work; so, if you feel that something is amiss, then perhaps this diagram can help you find what is wrong.

Additionally the website, The Muse suggests 4 steps that may help you find your way forward (there’s many websites with advice on the subject): Pinpoint the issue, get a new perspective, reflect on your growth/accomplishments, and know that it is ok to move on.

It’s important for your long-term personal wellbeing and mental health to find a career that interests and energizes you (not to mention one that puts food on the table!). The Gig economy is growing and offers many opportunities for personal and professional growth, but it isn’t for everyone. Knowing what’s right for you is the first step to charting your course and braving the open waters that is the job market.  – Happy sailing!

Steps to the Best Code Review and Giving the Imminent Feedback

Giving feedback is a regular task for all IT contractors, regardless of your core area of expertise. Whether its to a colleague, a client or a direct report, feedback comes in a variety of forms and usually starts with an evaluation. For example, you may give a colleague feedback on their presentation after seeing it, give a fellow contractor feedback on their resume after reading it, and or give a developer feedback on their code after a careful review.

Unlike sitting through a presentation or glancing over a resume, reviewing code and giving feedback requires extensive focus, knowledge and attention to detail. That’s why the best code reviewers are able to land jobs working on the most exciting projects.

In a recent article published by The Muse, Full Stack Engineer Neely Kartha comments on some of her struggles when she first began reviewing code, specifically the stress that can come from the expectations. Obviously a great problem-solver with initiative, Kartha explains how she interviewed other professionals to collect tips on how to best review code. Here are the 5 most important ones she discovered:

  1. Think about the overall impact
  2. Consider security
  3. Focus on bugs
  4. Be a team player
  5. Use the process for learning and knowledge sharing

While the first three points require strong technical skills and experience to truly excel, the final two — being a team player and embracing the opportunity to grow — are soft skills that can often be more challenging. Kartha points out at the end of her article that the steps in providing feedback are a great opportunity to exercise your people skills. She suggests giving people the benefit of the doubt while trying to dispel defensiveness. Obviously this is no easy task, but surely something that top code reviewers have mastered.

Do you review code? If so, do you have any additional tips for a successful review that ensures a quality product and maintains good relationships with the author? We’d love your tips, please share them in the comments below.

Older IT Professionals Can Still Rock a Career in Tech

Older IT Professionals Can Still Rock a Career in TechBetween news from Silicon Valley, advertisements from all industries, and countless Hollywood movies, the media is brutal for portraying all successful IT professionals as young, hip (and sometimes irritating) geniuses. The fact is, like all industries, successful organizations are most prosperous when they have a diverse team, including representation from all generations.

If you’re an IT contractor on the other side of 40, you likely played a heavy role in implementing technologies that brought your organization to the next level. So why can it be so challenging to find a new IT job at an older age? According to a recent Dice article by Leslie Stevens-Huffman, there are various stereotypes that follow senior IT workers and some professionals sabotage their careers by displaying these characteristics to a hiring manager. For example, is it possible you’ve been displaying a sense of entitlement, asking for too much compensation, or just being a stick in the mud?

To help out, Stevens-Huffman observed the most successful IT workers in the upper generation and compiled 5 traits they all have in common. Next time you’re looking for a new gig — either full-time or contract — here’s what you may want to highlight to avoid being lumped into the stereotype:

  1. Continuing Desire to Grow and Learn — the hottest skillset today may be useless in a few years. Clients and employers want to know that you’re willing to change with the times.
  2. Energetic — Speaking in an upbeat manner or using shorter sentences or paragraphs while writing can all make you appear more upbeat and project more energy than your younger counterparts.
  3. Clear Goals and Objectives — Referencing career coach Donald Burns, the author of the Dice article points out that a clear roadmap will help you avoid the mid- or late-career job search all together.
  4. Willing to Take Direction from Younger Colleagues — As noticed in point #1, you need to be willing to learn and often the younger generation can help do that. Be open to a two-way mentoring relationship.
  5. Present Day View — Learning from the past and using it as a way to make corrections going forward is positive; however, being stuck in the past and suggesting older technologies makes you appear out-of-touch.

Senior IT professionals with 20+ or 30+ years of experience might become independent contractors and consultants, where others prefer the stability of a full-time job. Regardless of your situation, although your skills are in high-demand, you will hit situations when you compete for gigs against the younger generation. By taking these points into consideration, you will ensure a focus on your experience, and not your age.

Is There a Place for Politics at Work?

There’s nothing wrong with being a political junkie and it’s positive to have an interest and opinion in what’s happening around you. Political debates can be healthy, lead to innovation and hold circles of friends together. They are also what can tear groups apart, ruin a party and, most relevant to this blog, harm careers.

The Negative Consequences of Talking Politics at Work

Is There a Place for Politics at Work?

Talking politics in the workplace is a slippery slope. In addition to being counter-productive to your actual job, the wrong topic can drive a wedge between colleagues, cause irreparable damage and possibly cost an employee their job.

For independent contractors, it can have even more severe consequences. IT contractors depend on their reputation to ensure regular gigs are coming through the door. Although talking politics with clients and their employees may seem harmless, you may be known as the person who brings a negative atmosphere to the office and sparks too much debate. Furthermore, if you cause enough trouble and break-up a team, that client will never want you back and word will quickly get out to recruiters.

Consider This Before Sparking a Political Discussion

As the introduction to this post notes, some groups of people fair quite well when they find a common ground in politics and the right bond can bring a team closer together. So, while we’re not recommending you never bring it up at work, we encourage you to carefully consider your situation.

First and foremost, know and understand the policies at your client’s site. Respect any rules or requests they may have on the subject of politics at work.

Secondly, know your crowd. If your peers and colleagues involved in the discussion are on the opposite end of the spectrum, or you have no idea where they lie, it may be best to stick to talking about the weather. People are not going to change their opinion simply because you made a valid point, so don’t think this is the time to start bringing them over to your side.

If the Inevitable is Going to Happen

If you must discuss the upcoming election, latest decision by the majority government, or hottest policy change while working, you should at least do it wisely. Never let these discussions get in the way of your own productivity or that of your client’s. If there’s one thing that will lead to a bad review at the end of your project, it’s costing them too much money without enough results.

Next, always be respectful of those with opposing views from yours. Ask questions, learn their perspective and be curious, as opposed to one-sided and confrontational. It’s also wise to avoid the really hot topics (you know what they are) and know when to end a debate before it goes too far and starts causing the damages described above.

Independent contractors have a reputation to uphold if they want to continue working for a specific client or even with a specific recruiter. While being opinionated and informed is a valuable trait, it can also be destructive. Speaking your mind too much while on a project, or even on social networks where recruiters are sure to be looking, can be detrimental to future opportunities.

Do you ever discuss politics at work? If you do, how do you ensure a meaningful conversation? Share your suggestions in the comments below.

6 Awesome Women in IT We Should Celebrate

Guest Post by Victoria Greene

You hear the name Silicon Valley and what do you think? The pinnacle of software, the place where the most gifted technological minds work, the mecca of IT. And how many executive positions by companies based at IT’s mecca are held by women? 11%.

Few industries have such a gap in gender representation as IT, but talent has nothing to do with it. There are millions of gifted women in the industry and countless inspirational individuals among them.

I’ve picked just 6 of the many talented ladies who deserve to be celebrated for their IT gifts. Read on and take inspiration from them.

Recommended reading: Take Responsibility for Your Own Career

  1. Julia Hartz

How many of the conferences you attended last year, gigs you’ve enjoyed recently, and events that you’ve organized used Eventbrite? The event management platform is simple, enormously popular, and wildly successful. It also wouldn’t exist without Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Julia Hartz.

Having studied communication and broadcast journalism at Malibu, California’s Pepperdine University, Julia founded the company with her husband, Kevin Hartz, in 2006. The company was the first of its type in the US.

With her trailblazing style, Julia Hartz’s success has seen her smash down barriers held in place by tech’s “men’s club” and earn her place among the most successful IT professionals in the world. We salute you, Julia.

  1. Karlie Kloss

You might know Karlie Kloss as the face Swarovski, or one of the many other high-level companies she models for. While Kloss is one of the top 300 models of the noughties, she’s also a passionate coder.

Kloss got into coding because it’s the “language of the future”, and in 2015 she sought to help carve out a path for young girls to play a part in the world of tomorrow by starting Kode With Klossy.

Kode With Klossy hosts summer coding camps for girls aged 13-18, where Kloss and her team help build the next generation of female IT stars. For your commitment to breaking down barriers, we celebrate you, Karlie.

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  1. Sheila Flavell

Sheila Flavell has been in the IT industry for 3 decades, taking in roles at Lloyds Abbey, Glen Dudley, and FDM, where she is Chief Operating Officer and an Executive Board Director. She’s also won a bucketful of awards acknowledging her influence in the IT world.

Among these are:

  • Woman of the Year – Computing Women in IT Excellence Awards
  • Lifetime Achievement Award – Scotland Women in Technology Awards
  • Business Leader of the Year – Cisco Everywoman in Technology Awards

But Sheila’s not just an award winner, she’s an opportunity giver. She’s campaigned tirelessly to help more women get into the IT industry, acting as mentor for many gifted young ladies in the tech industry. Hats off to you, Sheila.

  1. Lynsey Thornton

Another female star of the IT world whose name might not be as recognizable as it should be is Lynsey Thornton, VP, of User Experience at the Canadian ecommerce powerhouse, Shopify.

A tech head throughout the course of the higher education, Lynsey left her home in the British Isles to become one of Canada’s female IT stars, graduating from being Shopify’s UX Research Lead to running the UX show.

Like Karlie Kloss, Lynsey uses her skills to help the next-gen of female coding stars, volunteering as a Facilitator at Code For Kids.

However, it’s her work helping female entrepreneurs of tomorrow take the gender pay gap into their own hands, by creating their own businesses using their easy store builder, for which we celebrate her. Excellent work, Lynsey.

  1. Sheryl Sandberg

They’re by far the biggest social media platform on the planet and a global institution that eat away billions of hours of the world’s time, but Facebook wouldn’t be where they are today without the brilliance of its Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

After graduating from Harvard Business School in 1995, achieving an MBA with highest distinction, Sheryl went on to work for McKinsey & Company, Larry Summers, and Google. In 2007 she met Mark Zuckerberg at a party and a year later she became Facebook’s COO.

Sheryl was tasked with making Facebook profitable and boy has she succeeded; the company is firmly entrenched in the Fortune 500, and had a revenue of US$40.653 billion in 2017. Sheryl, you know what it means to star in the IT world.

  1. Susan Wojcicki

From Facebook to Google and YouTube, and from COO to CEO, we give you Susan Wojcicki. Like Sheryl Sandberg, Susan studied at Harvard University, turning her back on a career in academia in favor of lighting a fire under the world of online streaming.

It was Susan’s garage where Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin set up office in 1998; her partnership with the creators of the world’s largest search engine became official in 1999, when she became the company’s first marketing manager.

While working with Page and Brin, Susan pushed Google Video service against upstart streaming service YouTube. Rather than compete with YouTube, Susan recommended that Google buyout the company. That acquisition came in 2006 and today Susan is CEO of YouTube. Who knows where you would stream your videos from without Susan? Not us.

No industry should be a boys club, or a girls gang for that matter. The only factors that should determine where you work and what you do are talent, desire, dedication, and drive – gender should never be a factor. For all of their varied skills of our 6 awesome women in IT, it’s those 4 qualities for which we truly celebrate them.

We know that you have those 4 qualities too. So what are you waiting for? Take inspiration from our 6 stars and blaze your own trail in the world of IT.

Victoria Greene Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she shares tips on how women can forge a career in the online world by using their gift for crafting brilliant content.

The Painful Truth of Progress Updates from People with No Idea

You probably recall previous TDC posts with comedy sketch videos titled “The Expert” from Lauris Beinerts. One was about being a subject matter expert and the other about working with clients. Now there is another take on office life in the form of progress meetings. It’s yet another look at how navigating through tech projects as an IT expert and working with your clients isn’t always the easiest thing.

Watch the video for a good laugh to end off your week!