Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: IT Contractor Lifestyle

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

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

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?