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Category Archives: IT Contractor Lifestyle

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

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
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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

The Benefits of Adding More Green to Your Work-From-Home Office

The Benefits of Adding More Green to Your Work-From-Home Office

Looking for a way to spice up your WFH workspace all while improving your productivity and mental health? A simple houseplant on your desk can do all of that and more!

A number of studies in the past have shown that as humans, we are instinctively attracted to natural environments and benefit from their stimuli. Back when we were all working from an office (remember those good ol’ days?), you may recall that your client or employer had plants spread throughout. This was no mistake. Science has proven over and over that plants in the office bring a variety of benefits to both employees and employers. Here are just a few of the ways a plant on your desk can change your work-from-home life:

  • Reduce Stress: Many believe that green can have a soothing effect on us, but before you go and paint your office walls green, try picking-up a small succulent for your desk. A recent study published in HortTechnology experimented on workers at an electric company in Japan and learned that plants can have a way of decreasing our anxiety and our resting heart rate.
  • Increase Productivity: Plants can also help you get more done! While they won’t respond to your emails or generate reports for you, the 2015 Human Spaces report into The Global Impact of Biophilic Design explained that adding more connections to nature in your office can actually boost your productivity by 6%.
  • Reduce Illness: Better yet, that same Human Spaces report said that employees who work in environments with natural elements report 15% higher level of well-being. Combine this with the previously-mentioned study talking about reduced stress, plus a number of other studies dating back to the 80s and 90s, and there is plenty of reason to buy into this reasoning. On top of psychological value, many scientists say that a plant in your office will naturally filter the air to improve air quality.
  • Increase Creativity: Finally, plants can help your mind think outside of the box and create better solutions for your clients. Again, this is backed up by that same Human Spaces report which says plants can improve creativity by 15%. Theories for this are all over the place. Some say the colours and scents help expand your mind, others claim the zen feeling plants give off can help your mind flow into new areas, and some believe it has to do with a connection to our ancestors.

Now, take a look around your home office, are you leveraging this well-researched fact that a houseplant is a smart addition to your desk? If your next concern is finding the right plant (and one you can’t kill) then check out this post from Joy Us Garden. They highlight their top picks as well as tips on how to take care of them and their light requirements. Some common plants included in this post, as well as recommended by a number of other plant experts, include Snake Plants, ZZ Plants, and a variety of Succulents (including Aloe and many cacti).

Many IT professionals are expecting to be working from a home office for the foreseeable future, so make the best of it and set your office up for success. Getting the right natural green elements into there is a great step forward!

A (Real) Day in the Life of a Software Engineer

If you’re looking to get into the IT field, specifically as a Software Engineer, and looking forward to the lattes, catered lunches and Ping-Pong tables you’ve seen on YouTube, we have some bad news for you… it’s not the reality of your typical day. Especially now that so many tech companies, including Canada’s tech sweetheart Shopify, have used the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to a move to work-from-home model. These previously touted in-office perks should now have a minor influence on your career decision.

A more realistic video surfaced on YouTube a few months ago from Sierra Nguyen. She shadows Google Software Engineer Neil Fraser and, as you can see just by reading through all of the video’s comments, it’s one of the most honest and accurate representations of a Software Engineer’s true life. While being a Software Engineer with the right company can certainly be exciting, it’s also hard work, sometimes boring, and requires exceptional problem-solving skills.

Check out the video and let us know what you think! If you’re an experienced Software Engineer yourself, we’d love to hear your opinion and if you think anything’s missing. What other advice would you give to someone considering this career choice?

Of Genies, Bottles, and Working from Home

Of Genies, Bottles, and Working from Home

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Ea
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How long does it take to form a new habit? I’ve read articles claiming a new habit is formed in as little as 21 days, some say 66 days, while others suggest it could take as much as 250 days for complex habits to form (for some people). Regardless, by the time COVID-19 accommodations fully become a thing of the past, a year or more will have gone by — far longer than even the most pessimistic estimates for habit forming. If you consider the changes you’ve made (and stuck to) in response to COVID, you will recognize some new habits you’ve formed. And, if these continue, by February/March they will feel pretty comfortable and you might be keeping the changes even after the threat of COVID-19 has passed.

One such change is remote work. Prior to COVID, the technology was there to support virtual teams, but few companies bought into this in any big way; often describing “culture” or process (Agile Scrums?) or fairness to office staff, or lack of control, or… or… or… as reasons not to go all-in on a remote work strategy. Over the past 7 months or so, most “knowledge-workers” have been forced to embrace working from home… and, guess what? Work still got done! Sure, in some cases, there was a transition period where people felt that the accommodations were going to be temporary or short term. But in general, work continued. Companies scrambled to ensure collaboration tools were available for their staff… HR kicked into overdrive to ensure people felt connected and supported. Fun stuff – remote happy-hour – team recipe sharing – virtual mentoring/teaching began popping up to bridge the person-to-person gaps. Introverts (including everyone in my own family) finally have their day in the sun! People began doing what people for millennia have done… they began coping, they made changes that enabled them to carry on and be productive.

And now, we’ve had a taste of remote work… and many really like it!  The majority of the people I’ve personally spoken with over the past weeks and months have been positive about the changes. No more fighting traffic in the mornings, more time for work AND for home chores – work-life balance became work-life “fusion” and they’ve felt more productive overall. If the desire for remote work is pervasive, companies will recognize this and begin offering this option to acquire and retain employees. Competition for top resources is fierce and when the companies who offer remote-work begin snapping up more than their fair share of top talent, other companies will be forced to do so also.

Talent acquisition may be the single biggest driver for companies to embrace remote workers. Areas where high-tech is well entrenched – Toronto, Vancouver, Silicon Valley – are expensive to live and often force people into long commutes for reasons of affordability. The tech-companies that call these places their homes are growing quickly and hiring frequently. By embracing a remote worker strategy, they will have access to talent that either can’t afford or aren’t interested in living in these centers. Local talent pools open up to become a global talent ocean. This was a trend that we began seeing prior to COVID, but now that knowledge workers have remote working experience, we expect this trend to accelerate. Another big driver for business is the savings that can be achieved by reducing the size of their physical corporate footprint. Office space is a big cost item on companies’ income statements. They may be able to reduce their office costs by half or more by leveraging more remote work. This is a big enticement for adopting the strategy.

Consultants and contractors, to best take advantage of this shift, it is recommended that you give some thought to your own experiences working remotely. What were some of the challenges that you were able to overcome… what were some of your notable successes? Consider what it is that you’ve done to be a better “virtual team member” or how you’ve successfully managed your remote team or how you build value for the companies for which you’ve worked as a remote member of a team. Find ways to add these successes/best practices into your resume, and be prepared to speak to this should you be interviewed for a role with a remote work component.

The genie is out of the bottle… remote work is now “a thing” and, I believe, that it will be much more prevalent than it had been before COVID!

Bonus: Here’s a link to a great article that lists 20 work-from-home tips! (There’s many, many such article online!)

Quick Poll Results: How tight do you keep your LinkedIn connections?

Keeping an active LinkedIn profile and connecting with the right people in your industry is one of the best ways to find IT contracts. Not only is LinkedIn one of the most-used tools by IT recruiters, but it’s also the best way to build out your network and get referrals for future gigs. If you’re not leveraging LinkedIn, you’re missing out.

Once you have a profile, the next question to ask yourself is what kind of network you want to build. Every IT professional has their own strategy. Some like to keep things very exclusive, and only allow people into their circle if they know them personally and think highly of them. On the other extreme, some professionals are happy to connect with anyone who has a pulse.

There’s no right or wrong way to do LinkedIn, but we were curious to learn how our readers approach it, so we made it into this Summer’s contractor quick poll. It turns out, IT contractors like to keep their networks somewhat closed. Approximately 80% of respondents said that they only connect with people who they know and like, or with people who have mutual connections or interests.

Quick Poll Results: How tight do you keep your LinkedIn connections?

3 Boundaries You Need to Set as an Independent Contractor

3 Boundaries You Need to Set as an Independent Contractor

IT contracting and running your own business has a number of perks, including the fact that, generally, you get to set your own rules. It’s your business and as long as you deliver on your contract, the rest of the decisions are yours. All too often though, independent contractors fall into a trap of trying to please everybody and deliver the best service to earn that reference. You do more than you need to, which is fantastic for your client, but not doing yourself any services.

As an IT contractor, it’s important to set boundaries with a number of people — your client, colleagues, recruiters, friends, family and even yourself. Few people in your life are out to take advantage of you maliciously, but the more you give them, the more they’ll take. Eventually, you’ll find yourself doing things that don’t align with your goals. Here are three types of boundaries you should be setting as an IT contractor:

Time Boundaries

Probably the most common boundary we think of, and also the one most of us can improve. Your time is valuable, and even if a client is willing to pay you for the extra time worked, it doesn’t mean you need to work more hours than agreed to in your contract. Set office hours so clients know when your day begins and ends. Let them know which hours they should not expect to receive an email response.

Your office hours should not only be communicated with your client. First, setting these boundaries with yourself allows you to optimize your personal time outside of office hours. Next, other people in your life need to be aware of the hours you choose to work. Independent contractors enjoy flexibility with their hours, but friends and family sometimes think that means you’re available to help or chat at the drop of a dime. They too need to know that although you can take an hour off to run to the store, you’ve already scheduled that time for your client’s work.

Finally, time boundaries can be set at a more micro level as well. For example, when scheduling meetings, decide on the topic and set the exact length of time you intend to be on that call. Do not let the topic shift or the timeframe to change.

Ethical Boundaries

Your integrity must be a top priority if you want to continue hearing from recruiters about new opportunities and getting called back by clients. Similar to how your time can creep away because you keep giving a little more, there are countless stories of people who kept pushing their ethical boundaries slightly over the line until eventually they found themselves in an unimaginable dilemma.

One example of a little white lie that can get out of control is lying on a resume. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for recruiters to see this happen. Perhaps you expand the length of a project to fit the job description criteria or claim you have plenty of experience with a technology even though you only touched it briefly on a project. Regardless, if this continues to happen with every job application, these little stretches can turn into big lies. If recruiters don’t recognize them by comparing different resumes and your LinkedIn profile, it will surely stand out when you finally land a contract and can’t deliver. You’ll end up being blacklisted by that staffing agency and the client.

There are many other ethical boundaries that can be pushed and lead down a slippery slope. Billing for an extra hour or two when you weren’t actually working, discussing confidential client information with close friends (they won’t tell anyone, right?), and lying about other opportunities to negotiate a better rate — these all seem minor but can quickly come back to bite you.

Client Relationship Boundaries

Finally, it is critical to set boundaries with your client to prevent yourself from being deemed as an employee. This is important for both you and your client. Should the CRA do an audit and decide that you were, in fact, an employee, you will both be on the hook for some serious, unexpected payments.

Many of these boundaries are simple and just require you not to get sucked into the client’s every day activities. For example, those office hour boundaries we discussed above are a good example to show that you operate under your own business’s policies, as opposed to the client’s. Furthermore, you want to refrain from attending company events typically reserved for employee appreciation or using too many office supplies and equipment paid for by the client. Your accountant or lawyer can help you better understand what other boundaries you should be setting to help separate yourself from your client’s employees.

Setting boundaries is a wise idea to maintain your work-life balance while building a strong relationship with your client… but it’s easier said than done. Take time early-on to know understand your boundaries, so you’re not setting them on-the-fly. Then, be upfront, honest and clear about your boundaries with clients, recruiters and anybody else who needs to know them.

What other boundaries do you set as an independent contractor? How do you ensure they’re respected by clients, colleagues, recruiters and others in your life?

Don’t Let Knee-Jerk Decisions Destroy Your Career

Don't Let Knee-Jerk Decisions Destroy Your Career

We work with thousands of senior IT contractors. They have incorporated a contracting business and have been participating in the gig economy for years. As the economy gets challenging and contracts get halted, we’ve seen an increase in these professionals deciding that they’d prefer the lower-risk position of a permanent employee. They start seeking out these jobs and, because of their high qualifications, many companies are thrilled to have the opportunity to scoop up such talent. On the contrary, it’s common in economic downturns to see IT professionals who are typically more comfortable as an employee embrace the IT contracting side of things, and start to pick up these contract opportunities.

For some of these people, the change is perfect. Whether it’s the individual who gave up contracting or embraced it, the economic uncertainty forced them to review their career paths and do something they needed to do long ago. But that’s not everyone! If you’re considering this type of career change, you need to first ask yourself if you’re reacting too quickly with a knee-jerk decision that, although is a short-term solution, will have negative consequences down the road.

What happens when the economy starts picking up and operating at healthy levels again (and it will!)? If we consider the long-time contractor who transitioned to becoming a senior employee, are they going to want to get back into the game and leave the company high and dry, shortly after it invested significant time and money into that professional? Or, is that new-found contractor going to take the first secure permanent job opportunity they can, breaking whatever contract it is that they’re working on? In both of these cases, the results are angry companies, bad references and tarnished reputations for the IT professional.

We’re certainly not saying that IT professionals should remain without income and pass up opportunities. When you find yourself out of work, of course the best thing to do is to get back into the game. And when the economy is going through a rough patch, you have to take the jobs that are available. What you do need to ask yourself is whether or not you’re making a decision based on an immediate, emotional reaction without taking time to think it through — a knee-jerk decision.

The above is just one example of reacting to a situation without enough thought. Something goes wrong and we need to stop the bleeding so we implement a solution as soon as possible, without much analysis. The problem is, that quick a reaction opens up another problem which leads to another knee-jerk reaction and the vicious circle continues. It’s a common shortfall in management and leadership, with plenty of literature on that topic, and we also see it with many job seekers.

Suddenly quitting because a contract isn’t going your way, severing ties and burning bridges with recruiters because of one bad experience, or even picking up and moving the family to an entirely new city are all other overreactions that happen more often than we’d like to see. Next time you find yourself in a brutal situation where you are making decisions that you might regret down the road, consider some of these tips:

  • Take Time: When it comes to your career, very few (if any) decisions need to be made within hours. Often you even have a few days. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Before making any rash decisions, sleep on it and talk it through with others.
  • Understand Your Emotions: It’s important to know yourself and what kinds of triggers in your life might spark which emotions. From there, dealing with the emotions and understanding why you’re feeling them will help to put you in a more rational state-of-mind.
  • Don’t Judge the People: Too often we make decisions based on the other people involved. We have a preconceived judgement of that individual’s character and assume that their behaviour is malicious. The resulting reaction is unnecessary and out-of-place.
  • Ensure You Have the Facts: Taking time, understanding emotions and keeping feelings towards people out of the way are all steps you can take to gather the facts from experts and view the big picture.
  • Avoid the Herd Mentality: Related to gathering the facts, often we see people make bad decisions quickly simply because everyone else is doing it. They’re not always right.
  • Set Goals as a Guide: Great leaders look to their company’s mission and values before making important decisions to ensure their being guided by the right principals. Set goals today and know what you want. Then, when it comes to making that quick decision, you can look back on your original goals and ensure you’re following your guiding light.

There is a definite balance between making a quick decision and taking too long to make decisions. While some situations need faster action than others, always ensure you’re going through a rational decision-making process, especially when it comes to your career.

Quick Poll Results: Where would you prefer to be doing most of your work?

Working from home is now standard practice for office-workers around the world and there are so many obvious benefits — less of a commute, more opportunity for work/life balance, and increased comfort… just to name a few. While critics of WFH have typically been opposed because they feel it would reduce productivity or break-up teams, it’s safe to say that the world has adapted in a positive way.

Now that we’ve had a taste of the work-from-home convenience, few people want to go back. In last month’s Contractor Quick Poll, we asked where you’d prefer doing most of your work and, while there’s a fairly even split among those who’d prefer all at home or a 50/50 split, it’s clear that few independent contractors are interested in returning to a routine where they go to the client’s site all the time.

Quick Poll Results: Where would you prefer to be doing most of your work?

You Need to Have a Routine When You Work from Home

You Need to Have a Routine When You Work from Home

When the COVID-19 pandemic really became a reality for Canada in March, millions of Canadians were forced to work from home on a full-time basis, and many were setting up home offices for the first time. It was a big change, and understandably, productivity was expected to slip as we adjusted to a new way of doing this.

Eagle’s COVID-19 resources have had no shortage of work-from-home advice to help you get set-up and the Internet in general is overflowing with information to help you out. So, it shouldn’t come as a shock that three months later, clients and employers expect that you should now be working at full capacity. If you’re not there yet, then it’s time to build a routine to get yourself moving. And you need to do it now.

Routine will bring a sense of normality back to your day. It helps you build a regular schedule and to-do lists which are going to prevent procrastination and help you avoid bad habits overall. You’ll also begin to develop some great habits and your productivity will return to a level you can be proud of.

Having a routine in place is also critical to your own health. Indumathi Bendi, M.D., a physician at Piedmont Healthcare recently told Apartment Therapy “Carrying out routine activities reduces stress by making the situation appear more controllable and predictable. Preparedness is a key way to prevent stress.”

If you seek out expert advice on “the best morning routines” or “#1 work from home routines to make you a star” you’re going to be overwhelmed with different opinions and theories. The truth is, your routine is going to be different from anyone else’s. It will depend on your personal life (do you have kids hanging around the house?), your personal productive periods (everybody is more productive in different parts of the day), and hundreds of other variables unique to you.

Your best routine is going to mirror the regular work day you used to have — from waking up to commuting to working hours — as much as possible. Here are some elements to consider when creating your work-from-home routine:

  • Your Workspace: Your bed or the couch is not going to cut it. Even if you live in a small apartment without a private office, you still need a small area with a desk/table to keep organized.
  • Start/End Times: Setting specific “office hours” for yourself helps you build work/life balance and clients will know exactly when you’re available.
  • Breaks: Plan a regular lunch break and coffee breaks throughout your day, just as you’d have at the office.
  • Exercise: If you used to go to the gym in the morning or after work, continue to build those workouts into your routine at home. Don’t forget that walk you used to take from your car to the office. Even that void can be filled with a quick walk around the block.
  • Sleep: It’s easy to get into the habit of sleeping in a bit longer when you no longer have to worry about a commute or spending so much time getting ready. But that will creep up on you and, when the time comes, returning to regular office hours is going to be extremely difficult. Continue to wake up at the same time you used to and use that new-found time for yourself. Exercising, meditating or connecting with people are all amazing things we didn’t used to have time for but now the opportunity is there!

Your daily routine doesn’t need to be written down in stone and followed aggressively, but some sort of structure and predictability will do wonders for your productivity and mental health combined. What does your daily work-from-home routine look like?