Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: IT Contractor Lifestyle

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

Tech Professionals Aren’t Excited for Disney+

Disney has been the talk of the town as their streaming service officially launched last. With all of the hype over the course of October, we were curious to know if IT consultants who visit the Talent Development Centre were as excited for this as the media seems to be… and the answer is an obvious “no”. While a small percentage of respondents said they will subscribe to Disney+, most said it’s either not for them or they’re not sure yet.

Have you checked out Disney+ yet?

Tech Professionals Aren't Excited for Disney+

Eating Lunch at the Office is Complicated — Where and How to Eat When You Bring Your Own Lunch

Eating Lunch at the Office is Complicated -- Where and How to Eat When You Bring Your Own Lunch

 

Eating lunch is an important part of any professional’s day. It is not only necessary to keep healthy but it guarantees you have enough energy to remain productive for the rest of the afternoon. According to a 2017 survey by Tork, it also increases how much a person loves their job, especially among Canadians.

Still, many people, including IT contractors, get sucked into a project and completely lose track of time. Before you know it, it’s almost time to go home and you haven’t eaten anything since breakfast.

One way around skipping lunch is to bring your own mid-day meal. When you do suddenly bring your head-up from your computer and realize it’s time to eat, you aren’t burdened with the time it takes to leave the office, order your food, wait for it to be ready, eat and come back. On top of the time you save, eating lunch at the office is often a healthier diet choice and will also save you money. It seems, nothing is simple today, though, and bringing your own lunch leaves you with more considerations.

Eating Lunch at Your Desk

Whether you work from a home office or a client site, there are multiple options where you might choose to eat it. A lunchroom, a cafeteria, or outside are all stress-free, neutral environments. However, many of us stick with eating at our desk so we can continue to work, ignoring the many studies and experts advising against it for both health and productivity reasons.

Continual sitting is bad for your health, whereas moving around, socializing and getting sunshine are all proven to be good for your mental and physical health. Moreover, productivity experts will tell you that multi-tasking does not increase productivity (but actually reduces it) and taking time to relax does increase your productivity. Even if you’re not “working” while eating at your desk, just being present is a pass for clients and colleagues to interrupt your break and take away from that important relaxation time. Independent contractors have another dilemma when they mix lunch breaks and work — how will you bill? Because you’re eating, your client is not getting 100% of your time and will not appreciate being asked to pay for it.

For more tips on this topic, check out this article about how IT contractors can take better breaks.

Etiquette of Eating in the Office

When you bring your own lunch to the office, should you choose to eat at your desk or somewhere else, there remains etiquette to be followed.  At a minimum, follow the same rules you were taught by your parents — don’t chew loudly, slurp your drinks, or eat food that falls on the floor. There are also some codes of conduct that are unique to office settings:

  • Don’t hog resources. It is inconsiderate to take up excessive amounts of fridge space and if your meal requires 10 minutes to heat up in the microwave, prepare it during off-peak hours.
  • Speaking of off-peak hours, if you do decide to eat at a time when most others are working, be respectful and minimize distractions. Be extra quiet while preparing, eating and cleaning up after yourself.
  • That’s right, you must clean up after yourself. That includes inside the microwave after an explosion or the fridge after a spill, to avoid messes from getting old and smelly.
  • Smells are a controversial debate around many offices. This Monster article advises you stick with plain foods with few spices and avoid the common offenders such as onion, garlic, tuna and sardines. However, in this Kitchn post, etiquette expert Kirsten Schofield says you should eat what you want. Everything smells bad to somebody so don’t fret too much.
  • In that same post from The Kitchn, Schofield also warns against judging or commenting on people’s food choices at any level. “It’s irrelevant, it’s mean, and you can rapidly get into class/religion/ethnicity/gender/medical history stuff and hit a professional third rail,” she says.

Are we over-thinking something as simple as eating lunch at work… maybe. But you can be certain that if we found this much information on the topic, clients, contractors and employees you work with will also find it relevant. What problems have you run into while eating lunch at the office?

5 Ways Independent IT Contractors Can Reduce Their Carbon Footprint

5 Ways Independent IT Contractors Can Reduce Their Carbon FootprintAs climate change continues to dominate headlines as a leading cause of natural disasters, climate irregularities, and other concerning trends, people around the world are taking note and doing what they can to help slow it down. If you believe climate change is man-made and want to continue doing your part to minimize the effects, then you are probably already working to reduce your carbon footprint, or at least thinking about it.

A person’s carbon footprint is a measurement of how much carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere as a result of their own activities. By nature, IT contractors, and generally most people in the gig economy, have opportunities to significantly lower their carbon footprints. If you’re looking to do a little bit more, here are 5 ways an independent contractor can help the environment (you may find you’re already doing more than you realize):

1. Telecommute as Much as Possible

Riding a bike or public transportation are both responsible ways to lower a carbon footprint, but they are not always feasible depending on the distance between your home and client. Though your client may have some preferences about how much you’re at their site, independent contractors are not tied to specific office hours. Having a home office allows you minimize how much you’re in the car, only driving (and dealing with traffic) if you must be at the client’s building for important face-to-face meetings or to deal with items that cannot be taken offsite.

2. Schedule Meetings and Errands Efficiently

Of course, you can’t be a hermit and must leave the house some times. Planning efficiently will not only save you time but also reduce your carbon footprint with fewer trips. Try to coordinate recruiter interviews in the same area of town on the same day. If you must be in the client’s office, take care of other personal items while you’re in the area and avoid the trip on the weekend.

3. Ditch the Desktop Computer

Desktop computers certainly have their advantages, but they also require more energy to operate. Switching to a laptop, as well as using your cell phone when possible, minimizes the amount these larger power-suckers have to run. It’s also more convenient for you!

4. Avoid Paper Whenever Possible

We live in an electronic world and excessive use of paper is rarely necessary anymore. Rather than printing a document for somebody to review, could you email it or share it through the cloud? What about payments, invoicing and time tracking with your staffing agency? If any of that’s still happening by paper, ask how you can switch to electronic.

5. Watch What You Eat

Reducing paper waste is beneficial, but reducing all waste will have a greater impact on reducing your carbon footprint. Lunches at work are a major cause of unnecessary waste. If you bring your lunch, put it in re-usable containers instead of packaging that will end up in the garbage. If you prefer take-out, encourage your favourite restaurant to switch to more environmentally-friendly packaging. Some environmental enthusiasts also encourage ideas like “Meatless Mondays” which follow the concept that meat industries produce high amounts of carbon emissions.

There are a number of simple things everyone can do to help reduce their carbon footprint if they’re so inclined. How much or how little you decide to do is a personal decision. While it’s okay to encourage others to do their part, it’s also important to remember that a political discussion at the client’s office can have negative consequences on your contract. “Preaching” too much about what people should be doing may not be received well.

How Emotional Intelligence Makes You a Better IT Contractor

How Emotional Intelligence Makes You a Better IT Contractor

Emotional Intelligence (often referred to as EI or EQ) can be a fluffy term and not always simple to grasp. It refers to a person’s capacity to both identify and regulate emotions in themselves or others. Those with high EI are able to recognize, understand, manage and reason with emotions, which they can then leverage to manage their own behaviour and relationships. As Dr. Travis Bradberry has put it “Emotional intelligence is the ‘something’ in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions to achieve positive results.”

There is no shortage of documentation and articles advocating the importance of emotional intelligence in all areas of life, so we thought we’d investigate the benefits an IT contractor can reap with enhanced EI, specifically in the job search and while working.

How Emotional Intelligence Will Improve Your Job Search

Emotional intelligence becomes truly important for the IT contractor during the interview stage of your job search. Your skills and experience will help you sail through the technical evaluation, but EI is the piece that will help you build a connection with recruiters and non-technical hiring managers. These are the folks who, as much as they understand the value of your ability to do the job, are also ensuring you will fit into the team and work well with others.

Here are a few ways you can answer questions and describe past experiences in a job interview to highlight your emotional intelligence:

  • Show your ability to manage negative emotions by moving past bad experiences on past contracts. That means refraining from talking badly about previous clients or situations and focusing on the positive aspects.
  • Truly understand your strengths and weaknesses. Know how to communicate the areas you where excel and humbly accept the skills where you fall short.
  • Provide examples of times you accepted feedback and criticism and used it as a challenge to improve yourself.
  • Accept responsibility for areas that went wrong on a previous project without placing blame on other team members. Explain how you learned from your mistakes.
  • Take time to learn more about your interviewer and the position. Share their enthusiasm in what they do so you can build a connection with them.

How Emotional Intelligence Will Make You a Better IT Contractor

In 2012, a CareerBuilder survey showed that 71% of employers value emotional intelligence over IQ. Employers would rather hire people who have high EI than who are smart. Specifically, emotional intelligence is increasingly important for technology professionals for a myriad of reasons, some of them being:

  • It helps you get along with others. Tech workers regularly interact with non-technical people. The need to connect on a level where you can explain various concepts is crucial and emotional intelligence makes it happen.
  • It gives you job security. More and more we hear about how artificial intelligence and automation will steal our jobs. For the time being, these technologies still lack the human connection, including emotional intelligence.
  • It improves your decision making. By understanding others, and more importantly, yourself, you can push past biases and understand the emotions driving a situation to make decisions that are subjective and will be accepted by others.
  • It gets you through conflict. Your job as an IT contractor is to be the expert in an area. Naturally, with that turn comes conflict within your team and with your client’s employees. Emotional intelligence forms a sought-after leadership trait to work through conflict calmly and find solutions that work for everyone.
  • It means you can work well under pressure. The ability to control your emotions, listen and cooperate with others, all while understanding their emotions means you will be a prime candidate to lead a team through crisis and short timelines.

The great thing about EQ versus IQ is that emotional intelligence can be developed purposefully. There are a number of books and resources available that are worth researching if you’re seriously interested in improving yours. To get started, experts recommend reducing your stress levels as stress is known to mask your ability to tap into your emotions. From there, take some time to recognize your own emotions and learn more about your strengths and weaknesses, as well as read social cues to read into others’ nonverbal communications.

The TRUTH About Remote Work (from a Programmer)

In an age where everything can be delivered to your doorstep or done at more, more and more companies are allowing workers to work remotely. The dream, right? Maybe not.

In this video by programmer Andy Sterkowitz, which he recorded while working remotely in Playa Del Carmen, he explains the obvious benefits but as well the challenges that come from working remotely.

“Having a Great Week Does Not Start on Monday… It Starts Sunday Night!”

Sunday night. A night full of great weekend memories (or regret) and next week blues. Everyone’s heart drops at the reminder that in 12 hours they will be in their car, on the bus or on the train commuting to their office. Even if you are going to your dream job, it’s human nature to feel a bit reluctant to be a slave to the office hours.

Things might be stacked against you but if you are able to channel your productivity, there are 5 simple things you can — and should do — every Sunday night to make sure that you start your week on the right foot. Just watch this video from The Art of Improvement.

Impostor Syndrome is Common among IT Professionals. Here’s How You Can Overcome It.

Impostor Syndrome is Common among IT Professionals. Here's How You Can Overcome It.

Impostor Syndrome has been studied by workplace psychologists for over 40 years, dating back to 1978. It is a feeling of phoniness held by professionals in higher positions who believe they are not intelligent, capable or creative enough, despite the fact they earned their title based on merit. In a 2011 study published by the International Journal of Behavioural Science, it was estimated that 70% of people experience imposture syndrome at some point of their life. And, although originally thought to be something unique to women, more studies prove that it is common for everyone (although still more prevalent among females).

IT professionals are not immune to Impostor Syndrome. In an informal study by Blind last year, it was discovered that 58% of people with a technology-focused career suffer from it. Furthermore, in the 2018 Stack Overflow Developer Survey, nearly 40% of new IT professionals said they felt as though they were not as good at programming as most of their peers. As developers earned years of experience, these rates did drop; however, even 10% of developers with 20 years of experience — 20 years coding! — still felt as though they had inferior skills.

How Can IT Contractors Overcome Impostor Syndrome?

There are various reasons you may experience Impostor Syndrome at some point in your career. There are external factors, including high competition for jobs or overly competitive work environments, but it is mostly internal matters that can be solved with some self-awareness. Once you understand and overcome your own shortcomings contributing to your Impostor Syndrome, the rest gets easier with time. Consider some of these steps:

  • Acknowledge It. Like anything, you can’t improve until you acknowledge that you’re suffering from Impostor Syndrome and have taken the time to understand why. We often experience it due to perfectionism, relying on external validation, expecting to learn too quickly, or refusing to ask for help.
  • Accept That You’re Not Perfect at Everything. Especially in the technology industry, there are so many areas to specialize and there is no chance you can be perfect at all of it. If you consider yourself a generalist with a big picture, then you will lack specific knowledge about technologies. Vice-versa, if you have a niche skill, then you will not be proficient in other areas.
  • Know What You Don’t Know. Further to the previous point, knowing what you do not know is the first step to being more comfortable with your situation and improving yourself. Some items you do not need to know… it’s not your job. For the other skills, invest in learning and ask questions to improve.
  • Ask for Help. Find a mentor who has been in your shoes before. You will quickly learn that most people felt they did not belong in their position originally and you will learn how they overcame it. One word of caution, although vulnerability is often praised, opening too much to subordinates about this could be harmful to your position.
  • Remember Why You Are Where You Are. Assuming you did not completely lie on your resume, your client selected you for the gig because of your past experiences and accomplishments. Be proud of those, brag about them a bit, and use what you learned in the past to grow.
  • Stop Comparing Yourself to Others. Regardless of how much Arrogant Annie or Pretentious Pete think they know… they do not know everything either. Even if Suck-Up Sally is more accomplished and smarter than you, please refer to the previous point. You are not in your position by mistake.

If you’re not satisfied or inspired by the information in this post, have a read through this Huffington Post article written by Lily Chen, a female software engineer who overcame Impostor Syndrome. Whatever you do, embrace the challenges and don’t let this common demon stop you from excelling in your technology career.

What to Do When Your Contract is Suddenly Terminated

Nearly every IT contractor experiences it at least once in their career. You’re working hard on a contract for your client and suddenly you get the phone call from your recruitment agency — your contract is being terminated. You may have expected it, but other times, it comes out of the blue and knocks you down. Shocked as you are and with all of the emotions flooding, how you react speaks volumes about your character and will impact your future contract opportunities.

Right Away

What to Do When Your Contract is Suddenly Terminated

A sudden contract end can be a slap in the face. When you’re caught off guard, a mix of questions and emotions run through you and it’s okay to be angry. Still, as an independent contractor, you also need to remain professional and keep that solid reputation you’ve been building all of these years.

Fighting the news rarely helps, so instead, work with the client and recruiter to pass off knowledge and complete the necessary steps so you can all move on. During the process, ask questions to understand the situation and circumstances of the early contract end. Are there business factors beyond the control of your immediate manager and recruiter? Was the entire project cancelled? Or were there issues with the client team? These answers will help you learn for future situations and they will also help you explain the abrupt end to future recruiters and clients.

As things settle down, take a bit of time to reflect. This is a great time to evaluate your goals and skills to decide what kind of contract you’d like to work on next. Do you need to brush up on any skills? Is there an industry or project you should go after? Are you still happy with your recruiter? Is contracting still for you or is it time to switch back into a permanent position?

While it’s not necessary to jump right back into the search for a new contract immediately, laying the groundwork recommended. Update your status on LinkedIn and, if it’s not already done, switch your job search preferences on LinkedIn to “Open to new opportunities.” Update your resume as quickly as possible while your project is still fresh in your mind (eliminate any emotions) and upload it to your favourite job boards. These steps will have recruiters looking for you before you even know of the contracts available. Finally, get in touch with a manager or fellow contractor with whom you are still on good terms to ask if they will act as a reference.

Starting the Contract Search

Before starting the in-depth search for your next contract, be prepared to talk about the sudden contract end. If a recruiter or client asks about the shorter contract or how it ended, have a professional, objective response prepared. That means having the humility to own up to any short comings and having the professionalism to refrain from any negativity. A bad attitude can burn bridges and make you appear to be a risky contractor.

Everything else is business as usual! Start networking, applying to opportunities, meeting with recruiters and doing what you do best to find that next gig!

Be Prepared

If you were caught off guard this time, don’t let it happen again. The pure nature of independent contracting means that sometimes mandates end without notice. Always be networking with industry professionals and recruiters to know what’s happening in the market. Take interviews, learn about opportunities and be aware of competitive rates, even if you’re on what you think will be a long-term contract. It’s also prudent to plan financially and ensure there is a reserve of cash available if you suddenly find yourself without income.

The Connections Between Gaming and IT Contracting

Since the original Atari hit living rooms more than 40 years ago, gaming has been a way-of-life for millions of people around the world. While at one-point video games were known as time-wasters for youth and burn-outs, modern games have transformed far beyond the 8-world adventure that was Super Mario Bros. Today, people of all ages from all backgrounds game and there are proven benefits for young people as they develop and adults as they build careers.

The Critical Skills Youth Can Build from Video Games

The Connections Between Gaming and IT ContractingA recent Globe & Mail article highlights a study by a University of British Columbia economist, Nicole Fortin, that found a correlation between video games and higher math scores among teenagers. Fortin saw that video games are not only a strong predictor of future careers in finance, computer science or STEM (areas forecast to dominate the job market), but they also benefit students with attention deficit issues. In a separate Psychology Today article, Peter Gray, ph.D, agreed there are career and personal benefits to young people playing video games — cognitively, creatively, motivationally, emotionally and socially.

The rising popularity in video games has also given way for the eSports trend. In the same way that schools and recreational groups have competitive sports teams, many implemented eSports teams for kids to compete in video games, and it’s a huge thing! According to Teched Up Teacher, nearly 500 colleges in the United States support eSports at the club level and, even in Montreal, a high school launched a specialized eSports program streamed specifically for aspiring pro-gamers.

Students benefit from eSports for all the same reasons they gain a brighter future participating in sports and other extracurricular activities. The game skills themselves are just a small piece, as they also build team, social, emotional, and time management skills. Even those not playing the game participate by managing social media, casting games, and overseeing the team’s Twitch account.

How Video Games Can Help Your IT Career Today

The benefits of gaming extend beyond building skills of our future leaders. In fact, plenty of research and experiences point to IT professionals’ careers advancing as a result of this hobby. Dev.to published an article this past January with compelling arguments for a number of skills that can be improved through gaming. The nature of the most popular games requires one to communicate with people around the world, work together, and solve problems as a team, all while under pressure. This results in improved soft skills like communication, leadership, alertness, decision-making, stress management, and strategy.

So, bragging about your gaming hobby might just be something that progressive recruiters will find attractive. A study at Missouri University of Science and Technology looked specifically at World of Warcraft gamers and discovered they share improved traits of extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Furthermore, gamers are more likely to have computer-mediated communication skills and technology-readiness skills. Essentially, the study found that the more achievements you have unlocked in a game, the more technology savvy you are in real life.

There continues to be different views on whether or not gaming truly does improve the skills of an IT professional or if being a gamer is a sign of a skilled worker. Just read through this extensive Quora discussion, which is filled with mixed opinions. Some IT hiring managers say they specifically look for gaming in an applicant’s profile, where other very skilled developers believe it to be a complete waste of time.

Are you a gamer? If so, do you believe it helps in your career and builds the skills needed to serve your clients? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave them in the comments below.

10 Productive Things to Do When You’re Not Making Money

10 Productive Things to Do When You're Not Making MoneyThe concept of income is pretty simple for the independent contractor — if you don’t work, you don’t make money. But that simple notion is perhaps also one of the most stressful elements of IT contracting. When one job ends and you still haven’t found that next gig, you find yourself at home knowing that you made $0 today along with the uncertainty of when the next cheque will come in.

The fact is, there is nothing you can do to change the current situation but there are many tasks you can do that will ensure you’re set up well to find your next technology-related job quickly and reduce stress in the future. Here are 10 things you can do that are better than stressing over no income:

  1. Update Your Resume (or make multiple versions of the same one). Very frequently in the IT contracting world, a job is filled within hours of it being posted to a job board. You need to be ready with your resume as soon as you learn about it. Create an extremely detailed resume of everything you’ve done or multiple resumes with different themes. This will make it easier to quickly customize a resume the second an interesting job posting becomes available.
  2. Review Your Social Media. Now that your resume is up-to-date, take a look at your social networks, specifically LinkedIn. Recruiters often check here first when searching or they cross-reference it with your resume to look for red flags. Having all of the details from your resume on LinkedIn will help significantly.
  3. Search and Apply for Jobs. Don’t expect your favourite recruiters to call you just because you’re available. Continue searching for jobs on all of the major job boards and apply to all of the ones for which you’re qualified. The more staffing agencies with your resume, the more chances you have of getting a phone call down the road.
  4. Review Your References. Have you been giving the same list of references for a few years now? It may be time to review. Check to ensure all contact information is up-to-date and look at some recent contracts to see if there are better references you can use.
  5. Go to Interviews. If you have done a good job at updating your LinkedIn profile and resume, as well as applying to plenty of jobs, then you’re hopefully also receiving phone calls from different recruiters. Take the interviews even if they do not have an opportunity at the moment. Meeting them now means, with your consent, they can quickly submit you to a client when a job opens up.
  6. Organize Your Accounting. Your accountant might take care of your accounting but it’s still up to you to have the information together. The more organized you can be with credit card receipts, invoices, and reconciliations, the lower your bill will be from your accountant.
  7. Professional Development. Downtime is the perfect opportunity to improve your skills. You’re well connected in your field of IT and should already know exactly where you need to improve (be honest with yourself). Look for resources online or sign-up for a course. The investment will be worth it on your next contract.
  8. Join a Networking Group. Being around like-minded professionals can be a better way to build skills than formal training. We guarantee there are plenty of networking groups available that meet your needs (either locally or online), you just need to find them. Get involved and meet people!
  9. One-person businesses need marketing too. Have you updated (or even created) your website recently? Do you have business cards to hand out? Not only do these tasks make you more professional and memorable to recruiters and clients, but they are another step you can take to protect yourself when the CRA is reviewing your independence.
  10. Take a Vacation. Take advantage of the fact you’re suddenly without work. Unplugging and destressing is extremely important to your mental health and makes you more productive when you do start working again. If it’s been a while since your last holiday, you caught up with friends, you’ve done work around the house, or you’ve just done nothing, then don’t feel guilty about taking time for you.

The least productive thing you can do when you have no work is sit around and worry about money. In fact, any experienced independent contractor will tell you it’s the nature of the beast and you should plan for it. When you are working, ensure a portion of your income is being allocated for these “rainy periods.” Then you can work on any of the above tasks with no stress and full commitment.