Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: IT Contractor Lifestyle

Tips and advice for balancing your life with your IT contracting career in Canada.

Questions to Ponder for a Post-Pandemic “Office”

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Senior Vice President, Business Development at Eagle

As most of the country outside of the Maritimes are working through new stricter lockdowns to deal with a surging COVID virus in a predicted winter spike, we hold out increased hope that beyond the next few months there will be better days ahead as the vaccine gets distributed to the wider Canadian and global population. With that, it’s fair to ask what will change as workplaces begin to reopen and what lessons have we learned about remote working.

The IT/Technology industry “at large” was able to pivot relatively seamlessly, as one may have assumed, to working remotely with very few hiccups. The Federal Government impressed with the ability to get much needed fiscal programs up and running digitally in record time, at the same time as they moved the majority of their workforce home; likewise, for many in private sector.

So, what to make as we move forward and the pandemic has all but normalized remote work? Will we go to the office again, and if so, at what frequency? Is it a hybrid model of working? What changes are to come in how we communicate, connect and innovate?

But, is there any real choice? Recent polls of many knowledge workers showed that only 12% want to go back to full time office-based work and more than 70% prefer a hybrid model. What that means and where we go from here raises more questions than answers.

The shift to more remote work, or even all remote, is massive and consequential as both employers and people make new choices about where they in fact live and where they hire from. Senior Federal Government executives have talked now about truly decentralizing both FTE jobs and contracts outside of Ottawa and across to the rest of the country.

With a “virtual first” default mode, we are definitely seeing changes in the way clients hire, looking beyond geographic boundaries to search and hire nationally and indeed globally. Perhaps it was a natural change in the way we source talent, but nevertheless, that direction has been accelerated now.

There are a number of other societal impacts, and while the grind of the one hour plus commutes to downtown cores will not be missed, what’s to become of the many downtown restaurants, dry cleaning stores, cleaners, retail stores and all of the workers and support staff in those industries? The estimates are there is as much as 60% of today’s workforce that can’t work remotely who are at risk as we move forward. What of working parents with children at home and all the inherent challenges that can pose? The burden on working parents in these circumstances is real and, in many ways, unsustainable.

As social beings, we all need human interaction and as we move to a remote/ hybrid model, what of the “natural” conversations that help bind us, and in work teams, help us grow, solve problems and innovate? The pandemic has led to a loneliness epidemic for many. There are a number of indicators that this is particularly harder on younger workers, millennials and Gen Z’ers, as many friendships, and in fact social circles, are formed through office or location-based work. The inability to be face-to-face with co-workers or with clients is a challenge. We as humans communicate through more than words, but also by body language and tone, which all are more difficult to “interpret ” and process over a Zoom call. How do organizations work to establish their culture and values without the “heartbeat” of an office and coworkers and, yes Managers, who strive to demonstrate and live the company culture?

It will be incumbent on leaders to look to other ways to promote their values, goals and culture to ensure a dispersed workforce understands what that is and can participate and grow in it.

Change is good and there is much good that will come out of this dreadful year in our lives. We all we need to take the time now to help shape how we want to live, work, and play post-pandemic, such that we are living balanced, healthy and productive lives. Let’s stay tuned.

In the meanwhile, stay safe, be kind!

Contractor Quick Poll Results: How do you spend your lazy time?

Almost all of us love (and need) a lazy day here and there. A day where you turn off your mind, relax your body, and indulge. And there’s no better time to have one of those days than during the Winter (and depending where you are, while on Lockdown). While we all might plan a do-nothing day now and then, how we spend it will be different.

In last month’s contractor quick poll, before we took a break for the holidays, we asked our readers how they spend lazy days. Results were mixed, but the majority said they like reading or binge-watching a series. We also had a few write-ins which included playing music, leaning and exercising. And, naturally, there were a few go-getters who say there’s simply no such thing as a lazy day inside.

Here’s a complete look at how people answered:

Quick Poll Results: How do you spend your downtime?

Contractor Quick Poll: What do you want to get from a contract?

Great IT contractors are service-oriented. You’re focused on delivering a quality solution to your client so their organization can thrive and you can leave knowing the team is in good hands. That professional attitude is great and all, but let’s be honest, you had some other, more selfish reasons for accepting that gig.

The majority of us are working because it pays the bills. Ultimately, we look for the contract that has the best rate, plus a few other outcomes that benefit you. In this month’s contractor quick poll, we’re seeking to learn what else gets you excited for a contract. When you finish, aside from having made money, how do you consider it to have been successful for you?

Quick Poll Results: Do you listen to podcasts?

Podcasts are a great source of education, entertainment and a combination of the two. People love them for keeping up with current events and trends, hearing an interview with their favourite influencer, learning more about an interesting topic or just killing time.

In last month’s contractor quick poll, we were curious about how many of our readers embrace podcasts and build them into their regular sources of information. It turns out there is a fairly equal mix among Canadian IT contractors. While the majority of respondents did say that they either have a favourite or check-in now and then, a good chunk also said they rarely or never listen to podcasts, or at least haven’t in a long time.

The full results are below. Do you listen to podcasts? If so, what’s your favourite one to check out? If not, what’s been stopping you?

Quick Poll Results - Do You Listen to Podcasts?

Contractor Quick Poll: How do you spend those Lazy Days?

It’s that time of year! Those months when it’s more comfortable to stay inside and enjoy the comfort of your home rather than be outside in the winter weather. And that’s especially more enticing over the holiday season. Even for those Canadians who love being outdoors this time of year, inevitable extreme cold, snow storms, and ice rain will force everyone to cancel plans and stay home here and there.  Throw in physical distancing measures and you’re guaranteed a few lazy days in your near future. So, what are you going to do?

Sure, there’s work to be done for clients and chores to tackle around the house, but we all need time to do absolutely nothing. In this month’s contractor quick poll, we want to know your favourite way to spend a do-nothing, lazy day when you’re stuck inside.

Video Conferencing Etiquette

Video Conferencing Etiquette

If it wasn’t part of your regular job pre-COVID, surely by now, video meetings are a staple of your work life, and maybe even your social life. In the past year we’ve all had significantly fewer in-person meetings and instead we’re looking like the Brady Bunch multiple times a day.

Successful meetings have always required preparation, structure and respect. Video meetings are no different, but those basic rules look a bit different with some new etiquette. Here are some of those “extras” you need to keep in mind:

Be Prepared

Great meetings start with an agenda sent out to the participants before-hand. Then, as a participant, you do your research and prepare your notes, ensuring you can contribute valuable input.

Today, as a host, when you send that agenda you also need to send the login information, as well as let people know if video will be required. After all, your participants can’t prepare themselves for a video call if they don’t know it’s an expectation. Nobody like’s a surprise video call!

When you receive an invitation to a meeting that will have video, you should also prep a few things. At this point, you’re probably already mostly there. Hopefully you’re working in an environment with a professional-looking background and you’ve invested in a reliable mic and camera. That said, technology fails at the most inconvenient times. Log into meetings a few minutes early so you can run through a test, making sure mic works and your camera is well-aligned.

In final preparation, make sure you understanding the platform. If you always use Zoom and you get an invitation to a Zoom meeting, then great! You can be confident your computer is set-up. But what if an invitation comes in for a lesser-known platform, like BlueJeans. When you see that show-up in an invitation, it’s wise to visit their website, run any set-ups and do some tests long before the meeting starts.

Be Respectful

Hopefully you only attend meetings where everybody is respectful to their colleagues. Good manners and a smile go a long way in accomplishing the goals of a meeting and getting past conflict. In the past months, we’ve learned that there are entirely new ways to be disrespectful during a meeting.

Working from home brings background noise. Spouses might have their calls of their own, kids might (will) fight as soon as you get onto the call, and it seems like the Amazon delivery person stands outside your door and waits for you to log-on before ringing the door bell and angering your dog. That’s OK! It’s reality. But you can also minimize how much it disrupts your meeting.

Before the call starts, let those around you know you’ll be on a call and try to set yourself up in a quiet room where you won’t be interrupted. More importantly, though, use the mute button! Get in the habit of hitting mute as soon as you’re finished talking. Sure, at some point you’ll be “that person” who forgets to unmute, but at least you won’t be the unthoughtful person preventing good conversation.

And, of course, we can’t talk about respect without bringing up the annoying awkward, unavoidable “go ahead… no you go ahead… no… ok I’ll… oh….” Interruptions and talking over each other can sometimes be avoided by following a few respectful rules. Give some breathing time between speakers and letting them finish their thought before chiming in. That is simple but comes with one other requirement — don’t hog the spot light. If you ramble for minutes without coming up for air, then yes, somebody is going to interrupt you and no, they are not the one being disrespectful.

Be Structured

Finally, great meetings have structure. They follow a specific agenda, have outcomes and goals, and are led by a facilitator. Remote, video calls require even more structure. As noted in our previous point, it’s easy for somebody to run away with the meeting and talk too much. A great facilitator has to be ready to cut people off, use the “Mute All” button and call on people who are being drowned out.

Another great tool to leverage in video that helps keeps things organized (and is unavailable in face-to-face meetings) is the chat feature. Yes, sidebar conversations in private chat can be harmful to a meeting’s productivity, but an ability to PM the facilitator asking questions or requesting the floor, all without interrupting the dialogue, is game-changing!

A team who has effective meetings is guaranteed to have a better project outcome than the unprepared, disrespectful, unstructured team. And, after so many months of work-from-home, “sorry, this is all new to me” is no longer a valid excuse for your poor etiquette on a call. Are you putting in effort to make your calls amazing?

7 Pet Peeves Shared by Programmers

A few years ago, we shared a video called “The Expert” — a short comedy sketch about a subject matter expert putting up with all-too-common requests from sales people, clients and project managers who wanted him to do the impossible, and ignoring any common sense. It became one of our most-viewed posts on the Talent Development Centre and it was no surprise given how relatable it is for developers and programmers.

This video from Weconnex has a similar theme as it re-enacts 7 all-too-real annoying situations that programmers experience on a daily basis. From assuming updates are “simple” to expecting that every second of your day can be dedicated to fixing a “very important” bug, this video has everything. Enjoy!

Non-Profits and Charities Can Use Your Tech Skills

Non-Profits and Charities Can Use Your Tech Skills

Check on your favourite charities. They’re not ok.

The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged through the world’s economy. People across the country, maybe even you, have been out of work for months, struggling to make ends meet. The impact that’s having on charities and non-profit organizations is exponential. Not only does the struggling economy mean many of their services are in higher demand than ever, but fewer people have the budget to donate. And, to make matters worse, physical distancing regulations have shut down critical fundraising activities.

Today is giving Tuesday, the first Tuesday after Black Friday and Cyber Monday that’s designated for giving back to your community. If you are part of the group who can give extra cash to a cause today, realistically, there’s only so much you have available to give. There’s no way you can help everyone. When you find yourself wanting to do more, the other precious commodity all charities can use is time. And your unique skills are a bonus!

Although limited, most of the large, high-profile charities we hear about have departments of professionals, much like businesses. While they can always use extra help, even more shallow in resources are the small groups, non-profits and charities in your community. Interest groups, service clubs, sports teams, fundraising events, school committees — they’re all run by a few volunteers who are doing their best to keep their heads above water. And as amazing as those volunteers are, they often lack in the tech skills that come naturally to you.

As noted, most of these organizations are looking for innovative ways to fundraise as well as find efficiencies to cut costs. The solution to both of these problems in many cases is technology, but they simply don’t have the means or experience to implement it. They’re in need of a digital transformation, albeit quite minor. Enter the IT professional!

If you’re an IT contractor, we can guarantee there’s a committee of volunteers nearby who are working towards a goal that matches your values and they would love to hear from you. You can bring more to the table than you might realize:

  • Your Core Skills: Clients are willing to pay big bucks for your skills and with good reason. They’re a valuable commodity. They might also be exactly what a non-profit needs to help them launch a fundraising initiative or move their organization to the next level. That said, it’s rare the local mosque is looking for a C# Developer with experience working with network protocols and Rabbit Q.
  • Your Other Tech Abilities: You know how your neighbour assumes you can’t wait to fix his computer because you can work in IT? Charities would love for you to do that as well. Although not your core trade, your background has given you basic skills in setting up networks, upgrading software, troubleshooting email, and maintaining websites. That same neighbour who can’t figure out how to “open up the internet” is the same person running the local hockey club’s database. Please give them a hand.
  • Project Management: You might not have a PMP certification, but if you work in IT, you have an understanding of project management, and that knowledge is extremely transferrable and in-demand. Not just IT projects, but planning events, organizing fundraisers, and renovations all require a strong project leader. Your existing experience will help a community group get to where they need to be (on time, on budget), and, if Project Management is on your career roadmap, the gained experience will help you get there sooner.
  • Business: As an independent contractor you run a business. You know the ins and outs of meetings, contracts, accounting software, invoicing, taxes… or you at least know the right people who can help you. Often, volunteer organizations are packed with individuals who can run the operations but are less experienced on the business side of things.
  • Partnerships: Your contracting career has also resulted in a network of other brilliant people and organizations. After a couple conversations with a charity’s leaders, you’ll quickly realize that another colleague might donate services, a favourite recruiter could help them fill a role, or a past client would love the sponsorship opportunity. You can help the get the organization to better places with just a couple phone calls!

Volunteering comes with so many benefits! It will help build your career, do amazing things for your mental health and, of course, create a stronger community. For an added tax bonus, although charities can’t always give a tax receipt for your donated hours, you can choose to invoice your time, let them pay you, and then donate the earnings back. (Be sure to check with the charity that they can actually issue tax receipts first.)

So, if you have even just a few extra hours in the coming months, talk to a few neighbours and have a look around your community. You might be surprised at how many people would love to have you!

The “ism” That Will Catch Us All… Eventually

The "ism" That Will Catch Us All… Eventually

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

As I work for a company that is considered diverse*, “isms” rankle. We are all familiar with sexism, racism, antisemitism, and ethnocentrism (there are many, many others as well!), but the one that I want to discuss in this post is Ageism — the systemic and systematic discrimination against persons of older age. Maybe it’s the result of my own aging, but I’ve been noticing this issue more and more over the past year or so. It is kind of a strange “ism” as it isn’t like many of the others where people who are not a certain way — and will never be that way — attempt to discriminate against others who are. With Ageism, although a person may not be older now, they will age like everyone else and will become part of this sub-group of society themselves someday. You would think that would give people pause and be a suitable deterrent in itself. Yet it happens… I’ve seen it and I’m sure you, my readers, have witnessed it too.

“1001 Old People Jokes” and tropes that include housecoats and fuzzy-slippers for elderly women and pants with belts riding high for the men. These can be fairly innocuous, and are often perpetrated by elderly people themselves as self-deprecating humor. But ageism turns more serious and, perhaps, even a little threatening when it results in questioning their ability to drive, making their own financial decisions, deciding where and how they want to live, and the sub-par level of care they may receive when it is time that they do need some help. Some of the COVID stories we’ve heard about what happens in retirement homes is shocking, disappointing and, frankly, disgusting.

One other version of age-ism is that older people can’t fathom technology. In our industry — Information Technology — this is particularly troubling. I’ve witnessed perfectly capable technology professionals passed over time and again for no other reason than their age: “they don’t fit into our culture”… “they may be looking to retire soon and we want someone who can commit over a longer period” … “not sure of their ability to keep up with the pace of work here…”.  All these “concerns” are rooted in stereotypes.

Older workers often bring experience that “youthful teams” may lack. They come from the generation where people often DID put down roots and stick with the same company for a longer term. Companies may actually enjoy better retention rates hiring older workers, despite their relative nearness to retirement. And people aren’t retiring as early if they love what they do! Pace of work is less a factor of age and more a result of individual motivation. Experience, as mentioned before, can more than compensate if in fact there is a slowing due to age. And age does not dictate a person’s technological acumen!  When one builds their career in IT, they pretty much have to commit themselves to life-long learning. As long as that commitment is there, people later in their careers are just as able to learn new technology as those in the beginning or in the middle of their careers.

But of course, we all know that.  Intellectually, we understand that this is so. Yet, I am surprised at how often ageism occurs. A US-based study (reviewing 40,000 resumes) stated that “The largest-ever study of age discrimination has found that employers regularly overlook middle-aged and old workers based only on their resumes” – and older women face even more discrimination than do older men. Instead of being actively sought-after, having much more experience than younger applicants is actually a detriment to being selected for a job. Older technical consultants and contractors struggle with this greatly. Despite COVID-19, the world is still supply-constrained when it comes to finding technically savvy workers. Many of these people found consistent contracting opportunities throughout their careers, even during the “slumps” that occurred in 2000 and 2008. Yet now that they are older, they struggle. They’ve never had more or better experience than they do today, they’ve never had a higher level of skills and knowledge, yet it is harder and harder to convince employers of this.

This is true: ageism happens. It is happening now. Here in Canada and around the world, it is a common occurrence.  And we all should be aware of this and actively fighting against it. After all, we’re all going to be there, ourselves, someday and wouldn’t it be nice if ageism was eradicated before we had to face its challenges?

* Eagle is WBE certified as a Women Owned/Managed Business. We have been recognized in “Canada’s Best Places to Work” for women and our workforce is made up of 75% visible minorities… including some of us older people 😉

Quick Poll Results: Your Favourite Tool for Online Business Meetings

The majority of the world has been working from home for more than half a year now, and by this time, everyone is settled in. We know what works, but doesn’t work, what we love and what we hate. Depending how many external clients, recruiters and suppliers you interact with, there’s a good chance you’ve also had the opportunity to test a number of online meeting tools. While Zoom appears to be the popular platform in the news, Microsoft Teams is embraced by many large organizations, Google is competing with their Meetings solution and LogMeIn’s GoToMeeting is a classic.

In last month’s contractor quick poll, we asked our readers which tool they prefer to use when meeting remotely. It appears that Teams and Zoom are neck-in-neck for those who have a preference, but it’s also worth noting that more than a quarter really didn’t care.

Quick Poll Results: Your Favourite Tool for Online Business Meetings