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Category Archives: Professional Development

Professional development advice for Canadian IT contractors and independent consultants working in technology.

Multitasking Isn’t Always as Bad as Everyone Says… But It Can Increase Your Stress

Multitasking Isn't Always as Bad as Everyone Says... But It Can Increase Your Stress

Multitasking is not a new concept in the workplace and much research has been done on the topic for decades. Some people are proponents of it, digging for solutions on how to optimize your multitasking to get more done. Others hate the practice and there are plenty of studies proving that it harms your productivity. One thing all sides agree on is that multitasking can increase your stress levels and you need to keep that in check.

What Is Multitasking?

Taking a step back, for the purposes of this post, multitasking comes in two forms. First, there’s the practice of doing multiple items at once. For example, checking emails and writing code while on mute during a conference call.

The other, slightly harder-to-define, form of multitasking is alternating between tasks, without finishing one first. This is also the more common type of multitasking that is a reality for nearly all office workers. Many of us are checking email every 15-30 minutes while bouncing back and forth between projects.

How Multitasking is Stressing You Out

We won’t get into the debate of whether or not you should multitask. As already noted, for some, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate it all together. It is important, however, to recognize that you need to manage it to reduce your stress and better serve your clients.

We first need to understand what the brain is doing when we multitask. Studies have shown that although we believe we’re thinking about many items at once, the brain is more similar to your web browser, going back and forth between different tabs. It can only focus on one tab at once. Each time you go to a different task, it must use energy to open the other one and reprocess what’s happening. Too much of this can cause burnout and even lead to anxiety.

If we agree that multitasking harms productivity, then we can understand how it causes more stress because you start missing deliverables, submit bad work and it can all snowball into more negativity. In addition, the result of switching between projects can deteriorate your focus and, in turn, your ability to retain information.

On the other hand, if we subscribe to the belief that multitasking has benefits and improves productivity, studies continue to show that stress is inevitable. Interestingly, one study found that even when multitasking makes you more productive, you’re still likely to feel as though you weren’t productive which, you guessed it, leads to stress! Being a master multitasker also creates habits of needing to check-in. This causes stress when you find yourself in situations where you suddenly can’t regularly check emails or work on multiple items.

Taking the Stress Out of Multitasking

Certainly, if multitasking isn’t for you, the best solution is to eliminate it. Monotasking takes more discipline, but as noted a couple times already, many productivity experts swear by it. They say it allows you to be present in the moment and complete tasks faster.

To make it more of a reality in your job, you can monotask by creating sub-tasks and mini-goals. For example, rather than saying, “I’m going to focus on writing my resume and will not do anything else until it’s done”, you would say “For the next hour I’m going to focus on writing a summary of my Project Management experience in the Oil and Gas sector.”

If you want to continue multitasking, that’s great too. Here are a few quick tips that will help you get to where you want to be, and reduce your stress:

  • Use the right tools. There are plenty of apps to help you out with this and the most basic tool is a pen and paper. Write to-do lists and take notes on where you’re at with each task before switching. This prevents you from using energy when picking up where you left off.
  • Limit distractions. Multitasking is fine, but sometimes it’s toxic. Turn off your notifications so you control when you check email, not the other way around.
  • Know what requires your full attention. Sometimes you cannot multitask. Especially with more complex items or in subjects you’re still new and need all your brain power. Turn off the music, close out your email, and save all other projects for another day.
  • Practice! Like everything, practice makes perfect and multitasking is no different. Set your own routines and processes until you find a system that works for you.

Staying Healthy at Home During Physical Distancing

Staying Healthy at Home During Physical Distancing

You and your family are at home, being responsible with physical distancing. Great! Thank you for helping to flatten the curve. Now, how can you ensure you stay healthy? We recently posted about the importance of your mental health and how to take care of that through the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also important to take care of your physical health. Here are a few tips:

Keep Your House as Clean as Possible

Just because you’re locked in your house is no reason to believe you can no longer contract the Corona virus. Others in your house may already have it, food or other items that you bring home might contain the virus on its surface or you might pick it up while out and about grabbing some essentials.

First, monitor everyone in your house and be aware if they’re showing signs of COVID-19. The Government of Canada published this self-assessment tool to help you assess if somebody is sick. If somebody does show signs, do what you can to quarantine them within the house and pay extra attention to disinfecting any surfaces they may come into contact with. Use gloves around areas they touch, including when cleaning their laundry.

The CDC offers tips for cleaning and disinfecting your house here. They recommend you clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily, such as tables, doorknobs, light switches and toilets. It’s worth noting that cleaning removes germs but doesn’t kill them, it just lowers their numbers. You need to disinfect with chemical to kill germs on surfaces, after you’ve cleaned them. To disinfect, diluted household bleach solutions or alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol are best. You can create your own solution by mixing 5 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water.

This post from ITWorld Canada also provides tips for cleaning cellphones and other devices, including your cell phone, keyboards and mice.

Exercising

It’s the little things that count. Even if you never had a regular workout routine, walking to the office and back from your car, going out for lunch, and taking a few sets of stairs are all forms of exercise we’re no longer getting. You must keep physically fit to stay healthy through these times, but it’s difficult when we barely leave the home and the couch is so tempting.

First, always remember that a walk outside is alright and encouraged by health professionals, as long as you maintain your distance from other people. If you’re looking for something a bit more structured, this CBC article is packed with free, no-equipment online fitness classes. It lists a variety of free apps and channels (ex. Nike Training Club or Fitness Blender), studios offering online workouts (ex. Fit Squad Training, Body Barre Fitness & Training Studio), and other opportunities to get some good family workouts at home. Those with kids can also check out some YouTube channels like Cosmic Kids Yoga and Barre Alley.

Food Safety

There are many questions regarding food, and how to ensure it’s safe, either when it comes home from the grocery store or a takeout restaurant. In a CTV News interview, infectious disease specialist Isaac Bogoch called the risk of contracting the virus that way “so extraordinary small”. He said the virus doesn’t appear to thrive on surfaces like food or paper, but it can survive for hours or days on others.

The same CTV News article provided a few suggestions for keeping safe with takeout. For example, use rubbing alcohol to wipe down the box (but not the food) and thoroughly wash your hands after exchanging packages or cash.

As far as groceries are concerned, experts say this comes down to good hygiene. That should come as no surprise to anybody today. Sanitize before and after entering the grocery store and sanitize your grocery cart before taking it. You can wear gloves during your shopping trip and remove them once you leave the store; however, don’t let them give you a false sense of security. Germs can still spread on surfaces of gloves.

For more details, here’s a video by Jeffrey VanWingen with some detailed tips on how to sanitize your groceries and takeout when you bring them home:

How are you ensuring you stay healthier (or get healthier) while social distancing? Please share your ideas and suggestions with our community in the comments below.

Free Webinar to Help You Ensure Client Security While Working from Home

The new normal of physical distancing is expected to be in place for a while yet, meaning working from your home office on a more permanent basis is now a reality. Fortunately, the nature of IT contracting allows for this fairly easily and there are few complications in serving clients and completing projects.

While clients are thrilled that work can still be completed and productivity can remain high, there are security concerns. More remote workers mean that more information may be stored offsite and clients put their trust in IT contractors to keep their systems secured. That means that on top of being productive for your client, you also need to be vigilant in security to protect their information.

Last Summer, we shared a post written by NPC, an organization that specializes in secure mobile solutions. As the article states, clients depend on you to protect their business interests and “The impact on a contractor from a lost, stolen or compromised device while in a contract can be devastating.” Their service is an as-a-service model that provides secure managed devices with back-up completed each day into a secure data centre.

Free Webinar: Office 365 Basics for Secure Work from Home

Free Webinar to Help You Ensure Client Security While Working from HomeOn top of working on a secure device, you want to know that you’re using the software as securely as possible. One of the most common suites of software is Office 365. NPC is hosting two webinars in the coming week with practical insights regarding Office 365 to ensure your productivity and security during this time of challenge.

This webinar is for anyone that would like to know what Office 365 can do for them to work remotely, or current remote users who would like to be sure they are working securely but may need some clarity on key features. Staying connected to your team is important, doing it securely is critical. In this free 60-minute webinar NPC will walk you through the minimums of what you will need to effectively work from home using Office 365, and how you can be productive using key applications like SharePoint and Teams.

The webinar is open to everyone and will cover topics including: The Importance of Secure Computing from Home at this Time, Specific Cyber Threats, The Essentials for Secure Computing in Your WFH Environment, Connecting to Your Data with SharePoint, and Connecting to People with Teams.

Use either of these links to sign-up for the webinars:

Practical Ways for IT Contractors to Use Free Time

Practical Ways for IT Contractors to Use Free Time

The COVID-19 outbreak is locking the world down inside their homes and many of us are already going stir-crazy. Evening extra-curricular activities have been cancelled, live sports are taking a hiatus, and we’re discouraged from going out unless it’s absolutely necessary. Even telecommuting, as convenient as it is, gives you an hour or two more at home… inside the house… bored.

As we noted in last week’s post, it becomes easy to create an unhealthy routine of rolling out of bed, doing your work, then watching Netflix, all while eating junk food throughout the day. That behaviour is acceptable over the Christmas holidays, but is not ideal. Instead, use your extra time to better yourself and plan some of these tasks into your daily routines:

Professional Development

How many times in the past couple years have you missed out on a gig or higher rate because you were lacking some specific training or certification. Did you tell yourself you’re going to get on it but life is too busy? Now is the time! There are plenty of ways you can expand your skills and learn right from your home. We recently updated this post that contains over 50 different online resources for building skills and earning certifications. Included in that list is ICTC’s newly launched ICTC Ditital Pulse Channel. It will include live virtual events via video conference and available on their Vimeo page.

Perhaps you just need to use some existing skills and develop tangible experience. In that case, try creating  a few made-up projects, similar to this video of Python projects that look good on a resume. Or, you can offer to help a friend or past client with a project at no charge, with the understanding that you are learning a new skill.

Update Your Resume

We see thousands of resumes. Few of them are perfect. Can yours use some polishing? Here’s a checklist of things worth reviewing:

  1. Experience: Review it and ensure you list all technologies and skills you used, in each project description. If you know you will be responding to public sector bids in the future, check out this past post about building a resume for a government matrix. Remember, when you’re in a crunch to get a resume to a recruiter, it will be easier to cut information out of a detailed resume than to write new information to put into it.
  2. Wording: You have the meat, now make sure you’re selling yourself! Check out this post that helps you write the perfect profile summary. It will hook a recruiter into wanting to read more of your resume, then you can sell them on your experience. This infographic contains powerful action verbs to incorporate into project descriptions.
  3. Formatting: It’s amazing how many great resumes are destroyed because the formatting is awful. The biggest letdown is when a candidate gets too fancy and designs a beautiful resume that staffing agencies’ Applicant Tracking Systems can’t read. Then all that work becomes pointless. Even when it gets through the system, some IT contractors still fail to catch a recruiter’s attention. A few years ago, we asked recruiters what IT contractors can do better when formatting their resume, here’s their responses. Does your resume have any of these mishaps? If you’re spicing up your resume, also check out the video series we did a few years ago that gives tips for formatting your resume in MS Word.
  4. Match it to LinkedIn: It is no secret that all recruiters leverage LinkedIn to build their network. You need to have an updated profile to be found by the industry’s top recruiters. You also need to confirm it matches your resume which is one of the top things recruiters look for in a great LinkedIn profile. Use your downtime to update your LinkedIn profile, complete with a great profile photo.

Organize Your Business

Keeping your business running smoothly requires extra time to organize, and frankly, few IT contractors have time for that… until now! Here are a few past posts that will help:

Take Care of Yourself

If all else fails and you don’t want to think about work, use your time to take care of yourself.

  • Add Exercise into Your Daily Routine. It can be as simple as a few push-ups and crunches throughout the day, taking a walk around the block during your lunch break, or finding online workouts to follow along with. Many gyms are offering free live sessions to help cope with quarantines, you just need to search for them.
  • Practice Mindfulness. Especially during uncertain times where stress and anxiety are high, this is a good opportunity learn more about mindfulness. Explore and practice meditation in a quiet area to help focus your attention on the present moment and accept it without judgement. Some forms of yoga can have similar results, and also accomplish that exercise goal!
  • Enjoy Time with Others. Enjoy board games and activities with kids and spouses. Then, when fights inevitably break-out, call old friends and relatives who you’ve lost touch with.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a challenging time for the world and it’s a test for all of us. How we react and move forward will determine who will come out on top when this is all over. These are just a few ways you can take advantage of your downtime to better yourself. What else are you doing to keep busy while stuck at home?

Managing Your Stress and Anxiety Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Managing Your Stress and Anxiety Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is causing drastic amounts of change and reaction from government, businesses and individuals. The unknown brings plenty of stress and anxiety to everyone, and that’s alright, as long as we deal with it in a healthy manner. While over-reacting and panicking has terrible consequences, under-reacting and denying the situation can also have tragic outcomes.

As the famous Serenity Prayer says “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the thinks I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It’s easier said than done, but a step towards eliminating anxiety is to identify what’s stressing you out, and then decide if you can even control it. If you can’t, then let it go.

6 Things Within Your Control to Help Reduce COVID-19 Anxiety

The most uplifting news you need to remember is that you have full control over a number of actions. Taking control helps you rid anxiety because you know you’re doing your part. The most obvious example relating to the Coronavirus is that you can follow all recommendations that have been handed down from health professionals so we can flatten the curve. Here are six other suggestions, completely within your control, that will help reduce anxiety and help others while you’re doing it:

  1. Control the Information You Take In. The first step is to replace irrational thoughts with facts, which you can do by staying informed. But there is such a thing as being too Depending too much on articles from your Facebook feed or allowing yourself to go down an Internet rabbit hole is going to inundate you with information and much of it will not be valid. To prevent anxiety from over-information, find 2 or 3 credible, trusted organizations and stick with them for information. Only review the sources a couple times per day, and aside from that, stop yourself from being exposed to any other information related to COVID-19. The World Health Organization recently launched a service on WhatsApp so you can get information direcetly from them.
  2. Stay connected with people. Social distancing, quarantining and isolating does not mean you can’t have any social life. Make extra effort to maintain contact with friends and family. We can guarantee that the Coronavirus does not spread through text, social media, and phone calls.
  3. Take Care of Those Around You. Deliver groceries or take a moment to call somebody who you know is probably alone and worried themselves. Simply put, be kind to others. These are already stressful times and petty arguments are extremely unproductive. Making other people’s lives easier also just feels good and improves your mental health.
  4. Keep a healthy routine. Working from your home office for 8 hours, eating an greasy meal and then sitting on the couch until it’s time for bed is going to deteriorate your mental health. You probably have extra time, so experiment with new, healthy meals and fix up that sleep schedule. You can also help your mental health by getting outdoors, continuing (or starting) an exercise routine, as well as making time for relaxation and mindfulness, such as reading, taking a hot bath, practicing meditation or doing yoga.
  5. Help Your Kids Cope. Anybody who has kids is probably already going crazy. On top of trying to entertain them and split up fights every 10 minutes, you might be getting blasted with questions about what’s happening in the world, and that increases your own anxiety. Remember to stay calm and stick with brief facts. Allow them to ask those questions, but limit responses to what they need to know and especially limit their exposure to news sources that spread fear.
  6. Seek Help When You Need It. Most importantly, understand that there will be times when you don’t have the answers and coping alone isn’t going to cut it. Whether that means calling a friend or a professional, know when it’s time to reach out. Below are some links with information from credible organizations that can help you get started.

While we’re doing what we can to protect our physical selves from the Coronavirus, we can’t forget about our mental health as well. It’s normal to experience extreme amounts of anxiety due to the uncertainty; however, being able to cope mentally is a necessity in moving forward and getting through these unprecedented times.

Resources

Plan Your Development Training with the 2020 HackerRank Developer Skills Report

Once again, HackerRank surveyed over 116,000 developers and students around the world to understand the professional development trends across the industry and which skills are in the highest demand, with the most pay. The complete details were released in the 2020 HackerRank Developer Skills Report and if you’re a developer or aspiring developer planning out your training and development, this document is pure gold!

When deciding which skills to advance, many developers will start by seeing where there are the most opportunities and which will have the better financial return. It’s no surprise that JavaScript, Python and Java are the top three programming languages sought after by hiring managers. Interestingly, though, a global average of 14% (20% in the Americas) say they are language agnostic. Salary-wise, Perl, Scala and Go are more likely to earn you more money compared to the average developer.

Top Language Skills Around the World - 2020 HackerRank Developer Survey

As far as frameworks go, AngularJS, React and Spring remain the best-known as they have been for the past three year. Notably, Django and Vue.js both rose in popularity this year. But still, it’s Backbone.js and Cocoa that are earning developers more money, followed by Ruby on Rails and Spark.

Top Frameworks Around the World - 2020 HackerRank Developer Survey

Which ever of these skills you decide to improve, there are plenty of ways to get started. HackerRank found that developers use a number of methods to learn new skills, and there are clear preferences based on generation. While still used by few developers, the report points out that Coding Bootcamps are being leveraged, primarily by younger generations, and hiring managers are recognizing them as a means to prepare developers for work.

Learning New Coding Skills - 2020 HackerRank Developer Survey

This is just a small selection of the many stats and facts discovered in the 2020 HackerRank Developer Survey. If you’d like to know more, you can download the complete report here.

Protect You and Your Clients from Ransomware (plus an invitation to a free webinar)

Protect You and Your Clients from Ransomware  (plus an invitation to a free webinar)

According to Cybersecurity Ventures’ 2019 Official Annual Cybercrime Report, cybercrime is expected to cost the world more than $6 trillion by 2021, $20 billion in damages due to Ransomware. Attacks are not limited to certain industries or stealing data either. This article from OHS Canada gives an example of an ethical hacker in Italy who successfully took over a tower crane’s radio frequency controller. That can be disastrous!

With these stats, combined with endless stories of the past few years, it’s safe to say that no organization is safe from ransomware and we all need to be diligent. Depending on your contract, some clients allow, and even require, you to provide your own computer to perform work. Others strictly prohibit it. Regardless, you always need to be aware of these threats to protect your client, whether you’re connected to their network or just storing some data on your own machine.

A recent article written by Jason Hardy of Racksquared Data Centers, and published on The Business Journals provides three tips to protect business from ransomware:

  1. Implement a 3-2-1 backup strategy. That includes having three copies of data, on two different types of media, and one of those copies are offsite.
  2. Stay current on security patches. This is one of the simplest, but can also be overlooked due to time or expenses when you don’t have a dedicated team to patches. You may consider outsourcing this to ensure it gets done.
  3. Educate employees on security best practices. As noted above, there are no limits to who and what can get hacked, so do what you can to spread best practices and keep everyone within your team informed about how to stay safe.

Free Webinar to Protect Your Business from Ransomware Attacks

If you’re interested in learning more about Ransomware and how you can protect yourself and your client, NPC is hosting a free webinar offering best practices and defence strategies. They’ll discuss what ransomware is, how it works and how it has evolved, followed by what you can do about it.

The webinar takes place Tuesday, March 10th at 1:00pm EST. You can get more details and register for the webinar here.

NPC provides secure managed laptops, desktops and tablets for professionals who need reliable, secure computing with comprehensive support services. The devices are already sourced, configured, and secured with industry leading backup and security tools. From there, their support technicians continue to monitor and manage encryption and backup compliance, policy enforcement of biometric and strong password access, and overall system performance. If you’re interested in trying NPC’s service, Eagle contractors can get an exclusive offer here.

Web Developers: Here’s Your Up-to-Date Roadmap for 2020

The LearnCode.academy YouTube channel has over 600k followers and is known for their free web development tutorials, website design tutorials and more. They also manage a Web Development Roadmap that covers everything you need to learn in the profession, from the most beginner skills through more advanced development techniques.

In this video, they walk through the web development roadmap for 2020, covering topics including basic frontend (1:06), recommended deployment platforms (3:50), advanced frontend (7:27), backend (18:40) and DevOps (25:27). For all of the details, make a coffee and hit play on the video. It’s a little more than half an hour, but could be well worth your time. Or, skip the explanation and browse the complete Web Development Roadmap here.

Soft Skills Are More Important Than Ever When It Comes To Landing A Gig

Soft Skills Are More Important Than Ever When It Comes To Landing A Gig

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

With labour supply shortages becoming ubiquitous (in the local business market, provincially, nationally and around the world), forward-thinking companies with means are changing up the hiring strategies used even for technical roles… and especially for new, emerging, hard-to-find skills. When the world was in a “buyer’s market”, employers could ask for a shopping-list of attributes and, with a little patience, they could expect to hire close to an exact version of their “perfect candidate”. This is no longer true and hasn’t been true for some time now… and companies are coming around to the idea.

Progressive companies are more and more often hiring people using criteria that includes some basic level of education/experience along with a number of specific, highly valued, non-technical characteristics. We’re basically talking attitude, aptitude and business/people skills. These companies expect to train new hires to be able to do the jobs for which they are hiring. In this way, they are acquiring smart, motivated employees and investing in them to get them to where they need to be technically. The following chart from recent CompTIA research shows that only 3 of the 9 most desired skills are directly technology related.

CompTIA - Skills IT Managers are Looking for When Hiring

One such example of a company looking to invest in training, is AT&T. It has dog-eared $1 billion to re-train their staff to bring their skills sets up to what is needed by the company. Although this appears to be an enormous sum of money, they’ve calculated that it is cheaper to train than to release and (hopefully) re-hire people with the desired technical skill sets. The cost of releasing and then re-hiring is over 20% of the employees’ yearly salaries; and AT&T found that retraining staff has a smaller impact on the actual day-to-day business, they get to keep valuable knowledge-capital in the business, and there is significant improvements in employee engagement, satisfaction and retention.

For independent contractors this message should solidify a couple of things for you:

1) If you are a SME in a particular area and you are able to keep yourself on the leading edge of technological developments, the world is likely to be your oyster. You will be somewhat of a scarce resource and highly coveted.

2) If you find yourself with older, somewhat out-of-date skill sets you might try to emphasize the business/communication skills that you have built or the transferable skills that you are bringing with you. Through an understanding of the role for which you are applying, bring out these soft skills showing how they will help you to become the resource they need. With CRA rules being what they are, you may need to consider taking a permanent role so that the company can invest in your training.

Or… You can invest in yourself, upgrading your skills to better align with the business. But any way you approach it, know that hiring managers are more and more interested in the soft skills applicants bring with them. The following is a list (not exhaustive) of the soft skills employers find valuable. I encourage you to work some of this into your resume and interview conversations!

Soft Skills Employers Look for in People
Source: TIQ Group – Soft Skills Employers Look For In People

The Undisputable Top 3 Programming Languages for 2020

In early December, we shared a video by edureka! Listing their prediction for 2020’s top 10 programming languages. Heading up the list, the top three languages were unsurprisingly Python, Java and JavaScript. If you had any doubt about the popularity of these languages, here’s more proof.

Programming with Mosh, hosted by Mosh Hamedani, a professional software engineering trainer, published this video in mid-January, also declaring Python, Java, and JavaScript as the three most popular programming languages this year. Hamedani goes into extensive detail outlining what makes them so popular, stating that if you’re looking for a job in AI, web, or mobile development, this video is for you.