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Category Archives: IT Contractor Lifestyle

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

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?

Working Remotely? Secure your devices with these 5 easy security tips

Working Remotely? Secure your devices with these 5 easy security tips

This guest post was written and submitted by TechWarn

These are very strange times we are living in. Many governments have implemented a stay-at-home order meaning more and more people are working remotely. Studies show that in mid-March 2020, more than twice the number of North Americans were working at home compared to the same period in 2019.

Companies spend thousands of dollars a year on security measures to protect their systems from cyberattacks. But with employees turning their kitchen table into a home office and working on a home network, how can they follow company protocols and protect sensitive information?

Encrypt Data

One of the best security tips for staying safe when working remotely is to secure devices with a VPN. A virtual private network creates a secure connection and encrypts data, making it unreadable to prying eyes. VPNs can be installed on individual computers and smart devices, which also helps protect and shield online activity when using public wifi.

The Internet of Things (IoT) now means that many devices are connected to a home network. Think gaming consoles, security cameras, baby monitors, and AI-powered virtual assistants. It can be difficult to install a VPN directly on these devices, so protect everything connected to the home wifi with a VPN router.

Antivirus

Your home computer is now being used to store and amend work documents that, without installing the proper security, are easier for hackers to steal or destroy. The antivirus software available for home installation may not be as powerful as those used by businesses but it can prevent malware from attacking devices. Even free antiviruses significantly reduce the risk of attack and should stop you from getting in trouble with the boss.

Update Programs and Operating Systems

The security risks to operating systems, programs, and applications continually change as cybercriminals look for new ways to overcome protocols. Unfortunately, this is often easy as users are too lazy to update software.

In 2016, a ransomware attack known as WannaCry affected 200,000 computers running an out of date version of Microsoft Windows. Ensuring devices and software, especially those used for work purposes, are up-to-date with the latest security patches, should help prevent these kinds of cyberattacks from happening in the future.

Use Strong Router Passwords

Default passwords for routers are often very weak and a quick search on the internet is all it takes to find them. Hackers use these defaults by writing them into the code of malicious software. If a router becomes infected, it becomes a bot, allowing criminals to read all data sent over the network. Always change the default password to a minimum of 12 characters with a mixture of numbers, letters, and symbols.

Always Use Corporate IT Services

Many companies have IT services set up for employees to use while working from home. Corporate email systems, internal messaging platforms, and video conferencing tools have all been vetted and secured by IT departments and provide colleagues the tools to communicate.

It can be tempting to use instant messaging and video meeting platforms outside of the corporate setup. Zoom has become a popular platform for holding virtual meetings but a breach in its security lead to Zoom bombing, with uninvited guests accessing meetings and posting pornographic images. Always use the systems that are already in place to avoid unauthorized assess to company and personal data.

Working remotely may be the new norm and no one knows when employees will return to the workplace. In the meantime, stay home, stay safe, and be sure to work as securely as possible.

5 Challenges of Starting a New Contract from Home (and some ideas to overcome them)

5 Challenges of Starting a New Contract from Home (and some ideas to overcome them)

Over the past months, businesses across Canada have adapted to having entire teams working remotely. It’s presenting new obstacles, but it isn’t stopping projects from moving forward nor is it preventing IT contracts from starting. Consequently, we’ve had a number of consultants express challenges of their own as they start new gigs with new clients while working remotely, specifically because they’re getting a completely different first-day experience.

There are always difficulties that can arise on the first day of your contract, but the current situation has brought some brand-new ones. Here are 5 challenges some of Eagle’s new contractors have experienced, as well as some suggestions on how you can approach them:

Getting to Know the Team

Who’s who? Who does what and how do they fit into this project? The first few days of a new contract usually include a lot of time meeting the team and understanding each individual’s role — a task that’s generally easier to do in-person. Now, you’re confined to web conferencing and collaboration tools, which makes it difficult, but not impossible. You’ll need to go above and beyond to get to know people since you won’t have those watercooler or lunchtime conversations. Use your webcam when possible to make a more personal connection and so you can put faces to names. Also, follow them on LinkedIn and reach out to people individually, asking questions and learning about who they are, what they do, and what makes them tick.

Setting-Up on the Client’s Systems

Be prepared to have certain software already installed on your computer (which conferencing tool do they use?) and you’ll probably also need the ability to log into their system. Don’t wait until the last minute to get set-up or you can lose an entire day of productivity. Reach out to your client before the start date to understand all of the requirements and try to get your credentials early. Then spend some time a few days before to set up your workspace. Make sure you have the right equipment and applications downloaded and test them to make sure that they’re working. It’s also wise to be up a little earlier on your first day so you can get connected and get off on the right foot.

The Client May Not Be Prepared

Some clients aren’t ready for you on the best of days. Now that they’ve been thrown into managing their teams remotely, you can bet they are also dealing with more challenges. We shared a similar post on this topic a couple months ago and much of the advice still applies. Be prepared to take matters into your own hands and ask for some reading material to familiarize yourself with the organization and the project. It’s also a great opportunity to quickly reach out to a few people to get to know them.

Proving Yourself is More Challenging

Not just the first day, but throughout the contract, showing the client that you are working and providing value is going to require more effort because they will not physically see you being productive. On that first day, ask questions to understand and define your goals and targets. Then you can prepare detailed reports throughout the contract that match-up. You’re still going to need timesheet approval to get paid, so this will help minimize disputes with a client who is reviewing all spending with a little more scrutiny.

Building Your Work-from-Home Routine

Forget it being the first day or that this is might be unchartered territory for both you and your client, people working remotely have been trying to balance their routines for years. You need to consciously develop a plan that prevents you from either not being productive due to all of the distractions around your home, or the other extreme, working too much because it’s always right there. Build yourself a distraction-free workspace where you know you can focus on work and, if possible, close it off to yourself outside of working hours. You can also set specific work times, including breaks, that will ensure you get the right balance of work and personal life at home.

Have you discovered any new challenges as organizations adapt to a new way of doing business during the COVID-19 pandemic? We’d love to hear about your experiences and how you dealt with them. Please share in the comments below.

Contractor Quick Poll Results: How Many Languages Do You Speak?

Canada has two official languages: French and English. Unofficially, there are more than 200 languages spoken nation-wide and the 2016 Canadian Census found that 17.5% of the population spoke at least two languages at home. That’s a lot of diversity!

Speaking multiple languages can help you in your job search as it simplifies communication and building relationships with more people. In last month’s contractor quick poll, we decided to get a grasp on our readership and understand how many languages you can speak. The results have been fascinating with roughly 75% of respondents being able to speak more than one language and a few who can even speak 5 of more!

Quick Poll Results - How many languages do you speak?

Contractor Quick Poll: Where do you prefer to be working?

It’s now been about two months since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Canadian economy to shift in a way we’ve never seen before. While some companies had to shut down projects and cut contracts almost immediately, others saw the opposite effect where demand for IT talent couldn’t be greater. Across all organizations, nearly all staff and contractors have been asked to work from home and that has been a major change for many of us.

Now, we’re weeks into the pandemic and slowly starting to see the economy open up. While few offices are bringing their teams back, we are at a point where we can at least start talking about it. In this month’s contractor quick poll, we’re curious to know what you think of working from home, especially after being forced to do so for so long.

Building Self-Awareness Will Drastically Improve Your IT Career

Building Self-Awareness Will Drastically Improve Your IT Career

We published a post last October explaining how strengthening your emotional intelligence can make you a better IT contractor. Hand-in-hand with emotional intelligence is self-awareness. According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), there are two categories of self-awareness: internal self-awareness is how we see ourselves, and external self-awareness which refers to our understanding of how other people see us. Building both of them will have extreme benefits for an IT contractor in your job search, during job interviews, while working on contracts, as well as throughout life in general.

Self-Awareness in Your Job Search

Being self-aware means that you genuinely understand your strengths and weaknesses, what you excel at and when you tend to drag your feet. When we search for jobs, it’s tempting to apply for opportunities that will have the most pay, the most prestige and the most convenience. Self-awareness lets you take a step back to evaluate the job description and know if you truly are qualified for the job. From there, you can create a plan to develop the skills that will let you achieve your career goals. When you recognize shortfalls but still want to apply to an IT contract, a good sense of self-awareness will give you the confidence to clearly explain the areas where you lack experience, your plan to develop those skills, as well as what you bring to the table to make up for the shortfall.

Self-Awareness in a Job Interview

More and more, recruiters and hiring managers are structuring an interview to look beyond technical skills, including to understand an applicant’s self-awareness. Demonstrate your self-awareness in how you answer questions and speak genuinely about yourself. Explain your decision-making process, how your emotions have influenced decisions, and how you overcome biases that you identified. When providing examples of past work, recognize the challenges you’ve run into, provide honest details on how other people perceived you, and be accountable for your actions and outcomes. Most interviewers will assume that the IT contractor who is the hero of every project and who does no wrong is really just lacking self-awareness.

Self-Awareness on the Job

Why do clients want to work with technologists with high self-awareness? Because self-awareness has been proven time and again to improve performance, especially if you’re going to be leading a team. In fact, a 2010 study by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations discovered that high self-awareness often correlates with leadership success.

Knowing how others see you and how your emotions affect them helps you develop relationships with all levels of colleagues. Furthermore, when you know your weaknesses, you have an easier time delegating work to those who can do better. Finally, being known as someone with high self-awareness at work will help you with future opportunities. As noted earlier, clients and recruiters are looking for this trait more frequently, so when they call past clients for references, it will serve you well if they can speak to your self-awareness.

Self-Awareness to Improve Your Life

Those with high self-awareness are known to have increased soft skills that can benefit your job search, interviews, on-the-job performance, and life in general. For example, it can be argued that poor time management is the result of not being aware of how you spend your time in the first place. Taking a step back to breakdown your day helps you realize where you could have fit-in more productive behaviours. As well, self-awareness provides clarity in what you can and can’t control, and accept when it’s time to move forward rather than waste time on uncontrollable challenges.

Developing Self-Awareness

People spend years building self-awareness and along this journey there is always the opportunity to continually improve. There are a number of books available to help you, but a few quick tips include:

  • Ask for Feedback: It’s a difficult task, but getting feedback from people you trust and asking them to describe how they see you is a good exercise in getting to know yourself. Remember to ask people in all areas of your life and try not to take the feedback personally.
  • Journal: Reflect on your day, what went well and what you could have handled differently. This conversation with your thoughts will help you understand what strategies do and don’t work and will teach you to become more present.
  • Try a Personality Test: There are a plethora out there for you to try, but take them for what they are. A Facebook quiz or magazine article isn’t going to be scientifically accurate. Humans are also known for subconsciously skewing the results of these tests so they come out how we want them to.
  • Meditation: This in-depth exercise is a helpful way to build mindfulness. If you’re unsure where to start, search for guided meditation courses in your area. Eventually, you’ll learn to build your own routines that you can do at home.

We can all think of people we’ve worked with in the past who had absolutely no self-awareness and a few special people who excelled at it. What are you doing to improve yours?

Quick Poll Results: Your Go-To Voice Assistant

Do you use a voice assistant like Google, Siri or Alexa? We learned in last month’s Contractor Quick Poll that a proportion of our readers aren’t using voice-activated devices; however, a good chunk do enjoy the benefits of solving quick problems, getting directions and just having fun with the computer on their phone or home assistant.

To go one step further, we asked our readers about their favourite assistant. Between Amazon, Apple and Google, there’s some stiff competition. While some people said they have no preference, there are some obvious preferences for Google and Alexa.

Contractor Quick Poll Results - Who's Your Favourite Voice Assistant?

5 Tips to Make Working Home with Your Spouse Actually Work

5 Tips to Make Working Home with Your Spouse Actually Work

You love your spouse. We know you do. But how many people have ever worked from home with their spouse more than they have in the past few weeks? Twitter has exploded with comical one-liners of people sharing their experiences and they’ve been fun to read. But there are real challenges that families are experiencing. Dealing with them up-front is what’s going to ensure you can remain productive for your client while maintaining a happy household. And, given you’re probably confined to the home for a little while, that happiness should be a high priority. Here are a few tips we compiled to help you out:

  1. Try and work in separate spaces. Not everybody’s home can accommodate this, but if you can work in a separate room from your spouse, it will help you focus, minimize distractions, and prevent you from stepping on each other’s toes. Just make sure it’s a productive office (Hint: bedrooms tend to be a bad idea)

  2. They are not your colleagues. As tempting as it is, refrain from using your spouse to brainstorm work-related ideas or rant about office politics. This is distracting to them and brings them into problems that they really do not need.

  3. Still respect them like your colleagues. If you work in an open-office, then you know how annoying it is when somebody takes phone calls too loudly, listens to music without headphones, or starts talking to you while you’re in the middle of working on something that requires focus. Don’t be that person at home.

  4. Accept and embrace the inevitable distractions. It’s alright to want to socialize with your significant other through the day, so set some ground rules. Decide on specific times when you will take a break together and have signals when distractions are or aren’t alright. For example, a closed door might mean you cannot be disturbed or working at the dining room table instead of the office could mean some chitchat is alright.

  5. Take a few minutes each morning to discuss. Evaluate the prior day and review today’s schedule. Did anything happen yesterday that prevented you from being productive? Do you have an extra busy day today or are things a bit more relaxed? Discuss these topics each morning before going on your separate ways.

If you haven’t already, take a minute to acknowledge the challenges that you might face with both of you working from home and solve them up-front. Build your routines and plans that work for you. How are you surviving working from home with others around?