Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: IT Contracting

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to independent contracting.

Stop Being So Critical of Others!

Stop Being So Critical of Others!Back in March, self-proclaimed “gameplay engineer & software sorceress” Jessica Baker Tweeted out a comment that went viral: “I wish engineers hyped each other up like artists do, the other day I commented “nice” on someone’s code review and they thought i was sarcastically pointing out a bug.

The UK-based IT professional’s comment resonated with developers around the world, earning hundreds of retweets and thousands of likes. Stack Overflow’s 2018 Developer Survey found that at the beginning of their career, around 40% of developers strongly agree that they think of themselves as competing with peers and that they’re not as good as most peers. While the number drops based on experience, it only goes down to about 20%. It’s safe to say, then, that a good chunk of developers and engineers are in a similar situation to Jessica — working in environments with competition, a need to get ahead, and prone to criticism.

Critical co-workers are not limited to just those who write code, but its prevalent across all roles in all industries, as well as throughout our personal lives. Certainly, feedback is the only way we can improve in our careers and as painful as it can be to accept, criticism is a necessary evil in our development. However, the colleague who is constantly complaining, pointing out errors, and telling you how you can be better gets downright annoying and creates a negative atmosphere for everyone.

Are You a Critical Person?

The first step in the battle against negative, critical people is to double-check you’re not a culprit yourself. Consider your interactions throughout the day and ask yourself some challenging questions about how you communicate. Do you have trouble praising people? Are you regularly irritated and complaining or focusing too much on people’s faults? Do you always want to fix other people’s work? If not out loud, are these conversations happening in your head?

The way others describe you may also be a sign that you’re too critical. For example, although referred to as a “perfectionist” sounds positive at first, it might have a passive connotation.

How to Stop Being So Critical

If after careful self-evaluation, you come to realize that your team tiptoes around you and resist sharing their work with you due to fear of more unreasonable criticism, it’s time to start down the path to improvement.

The first step is to understand why the urge to criticize keeps arising. Often, overly critical people arrive at that state because of their own insecurities. They are overly critical on themselves and project their feelings and behaviours onto others. You may also be a genuinely caring person to wants to help others succeed and experience the same successes you have in your career. Regardless, too much criticism is harming your relationships and it needs to be minimized. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Focus on people’s good behaviour and help others improve by reinforcing positive accomplishments;
  2. Remember that because somebody does something differently it is not inferior. We all have different backgrounds and experiences;
  3. Double check if you really are right, or if that person you’re about to criticize is possibly on a better track; and, most importantly,
  4. Verify that you have all of the information and understand the full context as to why work was completed a certain way or a person reacted in a specific manner.

Working with an Overly Critical Person

As nice as it would be to just avoid the people in our lives who make a habit of tearing apart everything we do, sometimes that’s impossible. You can’t ghost your client or their employees forever when you’re on contract, so you’re going to have to come up with a solution to manage them before you go crazy.

  • Don’t take it personally. As noted earlier, critical people are often projecting their own issues onto you, so have empathy in noticing that they’re working through their own struggles.
  • Take their feedback for what it is. Their communication and delivery strategy may be brutal, but if there is some genuine feedback buried in that insulting comment, use it to improve on yourself.
  • Consider that you may be the problem. Are you struggling on the project and being resistant to feedback from a person who is acting appropriately?
  • Objectively and assertively tell them how it is. With the proper tone and carefully thinking through your words, explain the perception they give you, how it makes you feel and ask them to adjust their approach.

Nobody wants to spend all day listening to everything they’ve done wrong or how it could have been completed better. It’s an ingredient to a toxic work environment and you can fight back by both ensuring you’re not guilty yourself and stopping others before they rip a team to pieces.

What tips do you have to deal with super critical people?

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.

The Dos and Don’ts to Approaching a Stinky Colleague

The Dos and Don'ts to Approaching a Stinky ColleagueWe’ve all been there. On the bus, in a checkout line, or in a meeting and the person right next to you is letting off an awful stench that makes you want to gag. This terrible situation is compounded when you’re indoors and can’t escape, and it’s worse when you must suffer from it every day because the culprit is your co-worker.

There are multiple reasons a person is smelly and dealing with it is never easy. Poor hygiene jumps to the top of one’s mind as the most common cause, or at least the most perceived-to-be-common, cause. Often, there’s a natural odor or health issue creating your discomfort and the person puts in more effort than you realize to control it. Another case of strong odours that can be a concern in the office are the unnatural, self-inflicted scents from perfume or cologne.

Regardless of why somebody’s stench is unbearable, you need to deal with it professionally if you want it to go away, and the key phrase here is “deal with it”. If you read some stories across social media or talk to friends who’ve dealt with smelly co-workers, you’ve heard of passive hint dropping. For example, some people recommend subtle gestures like practicing good hygiene in front of them, decorating your workspace with pleasant plants and fragrances, or dropping a mysterious “hmmm…. Do you smell something weird?” More harshly, others joke about leaving deodorant on the person’s desk or sending them a random note. All of these suggestions are the easiest cop-outs but are guaranteed not to work. If your colleague does pick up on the hints, your approach is going to offend them, and the work environment just got even worse.

What are the best ways to deal with your stinky co-worker?

Here are some dos and don’ts when you find yourself in this extremely uncomfortable and awkward position:

  1. Don’t be Passive: As the previous paragraph pointed out, no good can come of this.
  2. Do be direct and polite: You’re already about to deliver a tough blow, don’t make it worse with a harsh or awkward delivery.
  3. Don’t Embarrass Them: This conversation is best to be had one-on-one and in a way that they don’t feel the whole world is against them.
  4. Do be sensitive: If this is a regular struggle, then they thought they resolved the problem. Your news is going to hurt even more.
  5. Don’t shift the blame: You’re not fooling anybody when you start with “Other people are saying…” You’re just fueling a more self-conscious feeling.
  6. Do choose your words properly: Language matters! “Strange odour” is a better choice than “stinky” or “terrible smell”.
  7. Don’t Gossip: If there’s a problem, deal with it. Talking to everyone else and snickering behind somebody’s back is childish.
  8. Do talk to a manager or HR: Given the sensitivity, it’s smartest to talk to the manager or your client’s HR department.
  9. Do reassure them that you don’t hate the them: Finally, your colleague may feel alone, especially if the approach went worse than expected. People want to feel accepted even at work, so it’s important to let them know you still respect them.

Dealing with sensitive conversations like this can be even more challenging for the independent contractor who isn’t an employee or always regarded as a true member of the team. How have you handled these scenarios in the past?

Quick Poll Results: How do independent contractors handle health insurance?

Last month’s contractor quick poll tackled a topic that many independent contractors don’t like to think about — health insurance. There are a number of considerations when making the decision and plenty of research you could do on the topic, first about the type of insurance you’ll use and then on a specific supplier. While we do not have any recommendations on the best path or supplier for you, we do now have a bit more insight into what others are doing.

The results below show what our respondents do for health insurance and provides some insight if you’re currently evaluating your choices. Interestingly enough, the majority of respondents either get coverage through a spouses program or don’t have any medical coverage at all.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below and we’ll find you the answer or a resource that can help you.

How do you get medical coverage as an independent contractor?

You Should Never Just Up and Leave a Client, But Sometimes Life Happens

When you sign a contract, you make a commitment. A commitment to the client that you will perform specific work and a promise that you will be available to do that work for an agreed upon period of time. Both your client and your recruiter are trusting that you will uphold that contract in the same way that you are depending on them to deliver on their end of the deal.

As with everything in life, though, there are sometimes extenuating circumstances. On the client’s side, funding gets cut or for other reasons completely beyond their control, they are no longer able to continue working with you. On your end, perhaps you get sick or there is a family issue, and you are forced to end the contract before the scheduled end date.

In all cases, the party leaving the contract needs to do so properly in order to preserve the relationships. This video has some tips on how an independent contractor can help soften the blow if they need to leave their assignment suddenly.

Career-Growth Advice for Employees That Also Applies to Independent Contractors

Career-Growth Advice for Employees That Also Applies to Independent ContractorsDo you ever look at your clients’ employees and think about how much easier they have it? Employees already have deductions removed from their pay, they can take advantage of company perks and benefits, they enjoy more job security and they need not worry about career advancement. Well… kind of.

While employees can usually lean on their boss for skills development and career progression, those who rely solely on the company are doomed to fall behind compared to those who take matters into their own hands. Similar to being an independent contractor, full-time employees must take charge of their own career growth to open up new opportunities and build their earning potential.

A recent article by Hanna Morgan and published by U.S. News provides tips for employees to do just that and much of the advice can be passed along to independent contractors:

Provide Solutions: The article starts by recommending an employee address their manager and recommend ideas to improve the organization’s processes and save money. This is a wise idea, but in a different context. Given you are your own manager, schedule time to reflect on your business processes such as accounting, resume-writing, and job searching and see if anything you’ve always done the same way can be re-thought.

Learn New Skills for Career Growth: We frequently ask job seekers not to apply to jobs for which they are not qualified. But that does not mean you shouldn’t still look at them. In fact, when any contract opportunity is appealing to you, thoroughly understand the required skills and technologies… then go out and get them! This also means identifying common soft skills that you should improve upon.

Expand Your Personal Brand: The IT contracting world is often transactional. You work for a client, you complete the contract, and you all move on to future business. Unless you made an outstanding impression, your client is not going to tout your brand through the industry to make you the most in-demand contractor of the city. This is something you must take into your own hands. The recommendations this article makes to employees in a similar predicament are also perfect for independent contractors: update your LinkedIn profile and resume with the narrative you want, and look for opportunities to write or speak about your skills.

Network for Career Advancement: The advice provided by Morgan in this section is so perfect, we’re going to quote her directly: “Think of networking as information gathering. It helps you learn about the challenges other workers face and it gives you the opportunity to talk about what you have learned. If you are networking-averse, keep in mind that all you are asking for when you meet with someone is advice, information or recommendations. Don’t forget to keep in touch with past colleagues and classmates. Maintaining these relationships helps you feel connected and makes networking more enjoyable. Creating time in your hectic schedule for networking allows you to meet people who can help spread the word about you and your personal brand.

Find Mentors for Career Growth: Yes, you need to adapt to changing trends and technologies, but there is no need to re-invent the wheel in IT contracting. Seek out an experienced, successful contractor who knows the game and ask them to be a mentor. They can provide career guidance, motivation and serve as a role model.

You May Have to Move On: Obviously you will need to move on to a new client eventually, that is the entire premise behind contracting. Independent contractors experience other forms of “moving on” when change is required. Should you start working with different recruiters? Should you try a new industry or even a new skill? Perhaps there are better opportunities in a complete different city.

The benefits of independent contracting come with a number of struggles that employees do not have to face, so it’s nice to recognize the ones everybody shares. In all cases, having a plan and then working on that plan is the only way to ensure life takes you to where you want to go. Otherwise, you will find yourself working on boring contracts at lower rates, when you know you have the potential to do so much more.

9 Steps to Better Business Meetings

Meetings. Never really touched upon in our educations but quickly become a driving force in our lives once we reach the work force. Independent contractors host a number of types of meetings for clients but if you lack the proper guidance and instruction, no attendee will get the most out of the interaction.

If you want to improve your meetings, check out the infographic below with 9 tips to a better business meeting from Teamweek and see how it can apply to your business whether it’s meeting with colleagues or your next big interview. If you like what you see, check out the original post for more in-depth details.

Better Business Meetings
Infographic by Teamweek

The Harmful Impacts of IT Downtime

The infographic below from ers IT Solutions confirms something all technology contractors already know — IT downtime can be an expensive disaster for clients. As you scroll down the page, you may be shocked at just what kind of impact companies experience, why these downtimes happen and even how frequently.

Truly understanding this infographic and having empathy for a client during these times might be a game-changer for your reputation and your career. A couple years ago, we shared a post with some tips on leading your client through a technology crisis. It reminds us that even when the cause had nothing to do with your work, clients will remember the IT professional who can react properly and help them through a disastrous time.

The Harmful Impacts of IT Downtime

Get the Best References and Testimonials for Your Independent Contracting Business

Get the Best References and Testimonials for Your Independent Contracting BusinessA stunning testimonial can grab a recruiter or new client’s attention and get you considered for an interview before they begin to look at your qualifications. The right reference will seal the deal on a new contract and might even help negotiate a better offer. Above all, a well through-out approach to securing and displaying these assets is invaluable to your IT contracting business.

Testimonials and references are a marketing tool used by all businesses, from international corporations with thousands of employees and selling hundreds of products to independent contractors going from gig to gig. Regardless of the business size, it’s a struggle to get detailed references and not everyone uses them to their highest potential.

Having a list of great references is a mandatory requirement for any job seeker. It’s often advised to have a number of recent ones up your sleeve, guaranteeing you have a back-up if one is suddenly unavailable, a new client or recruiter requests something else, or you learn that a reference you thought liked you is actually giving some unpleasant feedback.

And what about testimonials? A great description from a client explaining your invaluable contributions to a project or from a recruiter vouching for your work ethic and dependability can go a long way if you use it correctly. For example, adding more chunks of text to your resume is bound to be ignored by a busy recruiter or hiring manager; however, glowing reviews fit perfectly on a LinkedIn profile or personal website and immediately add credibility to your story.

Given the benefits, what strategies can an independent contractor or technology professional use to source the best testimonials and references?

  • Develop a formal process. Work out the exact plan and approach of how and when you’ll ask for references for every single project you work on. It will get easier every time and you’ll end up with consistent information saved in one file, plus a variety to choose from to match on relevant project applications.
  • Keep notes. Make a note every time you receive a compliment or great feedback during a project. Remind your client of that when asking for their support. You’ll also have specific examples for your client to reference.
  • Do the legwork. It is certain that whoever you are asking is busy, so make their life as easy as possible. Prepare all of the details, contact information and a draft testimonial of what you think they would say. The only work left for them will be minor edits and a signature.
  • Understand what they can say. Recruiters and staffing agencies can rarely give a reference about your work because they were not there and their feedback is only second-hand. They may, however, confirm you worked on that project for a period of time, as well as speak to your ethics and work habits. Asking “Can you give me a reference” may not be successful, but phrasing it as “Would you be willing to speak to my work ethic and ease of working together” can have a positive impact on your relationship with future recruiters.
  • Use LinkedIn testimonials. Ask for testimonials on LinkedIn. Once you have them, display them proudly on the social network and ask the person for permission to use their words elsewhere in the future.
  • Timing is key. Asking for a reference or testimonial is generally not a good idea while simultaneously seeking payment or when you know the project went terribly wrong. Wait until you’ve added value and they’re already giving you positive feedback before you ask “Would it be alright if I shared your words on my marketing material?”
  • Endorse them. Your clients and recruiters are also running a business so testimonials are just as important for them as they are for you. Before or after you receive a reference, look them up on review sites like Google, Glassdoor, Indeed, Yelp or LinkedIn to tell other independent contractors how happy you were working with them.

For every reference or testimonial you receive, always remember to show appreciation. It doesn’t have to be complicated and showing gratitude for a favour is necessary to build relationships. Like so many situations, a hand-written thank you card goes such a long way, it’s incredible.

How do you solicit client and recruiter feedback?

Ensure You’re Working on a Secure Device… But Don’t Spend Time Securing It

The following guest post was provided by NPC

IT and professional contractors are the definitive mobile professional.  Moving between jobs that can be anywhere from a few days to a few years, mobility, adaptability and professionalism are essential to their success. They’ve been mastering the “gig economy” long before it was topical. Many contractors make exceptional money, better sometimes than their permanent-staff counterparts. The difference between the winners and losers may not be the luck of the draw on the positions they land, but how they organize and present themselves. Running an efficient and secure one-person office is critical to being able to focus on the work opportunity, and to maximize revenue generating hours.

But as solo entrepreneurs, how a contractor spends their time doing just that is important.  Like it is for any professional, time is money. It’s reasonably certain that someone who owns a car dealership no longer changes their own oil. Smart producers look carefully at their operational responsibilities and how they spend their time. They watch for opportunities to offload a task to someone that can do it faster-better-cheaper. Even though it may be a task they know how to do themselves, once the value of their skills overtakes the value of the task, they offload it.

As-a-Service models are related to and fast becoming as ubiquitous as Cloud Computing. They are great opportunities for professionals of all types to offload some of the time-consuming and low value work that is not only a bit of pain to keep up with, but takes away from either their revenue producing work, or, more importantly, precious personal and family time.

An example of this is NPC DataGuard’s secure managed computer offering. For a single monthly fee NPC will provide a professional with a top-of-line laptop, desktop or hybrid tablet, that is already sourced, configured, and secured with industry leading backup and security tools.  Giving the responsibility to someone else to provide a computer that is built, managed and monitored, always in warranty, with single-point-of-contact 24/7 support, can be a big time saver for the Contractor.

For those jobs that require the contractor to “BYOD”, being secure and protecting their business interests, and that of their clients, is essential. The level of security that can be achieved in these types of specialized models is exceptional. Fully encrypted and biometric access devices will impress those clients that require you to work on a secure device. As well, as an example, NPC DataGuard’s Pro product comes with $5M in privacy breach remediation insurance if an NPC ever failed to protect critical personal information you may work on for your client.

The impact on a contractor from a lost, stolen or compromised device while in a contract can be devastating.  What is your plan today for such an event? What’s your personal Business Continuity Plan?  A secure managed computer includes a full back-up completed each day into a secure data centre.  A lost, stolen or damaged device can be replaced with data restored, saving you countless hours doing it yourself and getting you back to work.

“As-a-Service” models offer products and services to ensure the contractor does not waste time on tasks that pay him or her less than what they can make, as well as levels of  technology performance that even an IT professional might find hard to achieve on their own.

Spending a lot of time buying, configuring and securing your own computer can now be a thing of the past. Key to driving top revenue is showing up professionally with military-grade security on a slick new computer and being able to focus on the opportunity at hand.

This guest post was submitted by our friends at NPC. Visit this page to learn more and to get a special offer for all of our readers.