Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Professional Development

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

Top 5 Skills All Tech Professionals Should Follow in 2021

Have you planned out your learning roadmap for the year yet? Do you know which skills you want to explore deeper, either formally or at least by following a couple extra blogs and Twitter accounts? If not, this video from David Bombal has five suggestions for you: Python, Linux, Cloud, Networking, and APIs.

Bombal believes that a lot of his career success is because he followed trends and knew which waves to ride. There is no need to become an expert in these skills but because technology is all connected, he states that you need to understand each of them to be successful at whatever it is you’re doing in the field of IT.

Want to know more? Take about 10 minutes to review the complete video below:

Review of the Top 25 Job Search and Contracting Tips You Might Have Missed

2020 will go down in history as an unpredictable year, full of surprises and learning experiences that, although often stressful, will make us all better people in the end. The holidays are a great time to look back and reflect on the last year — What went well? What could have gone better? How will it be better next year?

The Talent Development Centre had 145 new posts over 2020, including job market updates, quick polls and some excellent tips and tricks from industry experts. Many of those posts were packed with valuable knowledge and were well received, so we want to make sure you saw them. Here’s a collection of the top-viewed informational posts from 2020:

COVID-19 Support

There’s no ignoring the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic defined 2020. When it hit, Eagle was quick to gather as much information as we could regarding government support to help IT contractors navigate the fast-changing updates. Over the following months, we provided some additional articles for coping, as well as uplifting success stories, all of which are still very relevant today:

IT Contracting

Even the most seasoned IT contractors continue to learn the ins and outs of the independent contracting world. It can be complex and, like everything else in today’s reality, it’s always changing. These articles were among the most popular guidance we provided to IT contractors in the past year:

Working with Recruiters

A natural part of being a successful IT contractor is building great relationships with recruiters to leverage your network and gain more access to jobs. Here are the top tips on that topic:

Job Interviews

There are many steps in a job search, but it turns out the area our readers were most interested in learning about in 2020 were job interviews. Specifically, these posts were most popular:

Other Job Search Posts

In addition to interviews-related articles, here are a few other job search tips and tricks that hundreds of contractors grabbed knowledge from this year:

Personal Development

Finally, whether it’s professional skills or soft skills, helping yourself become a better person is not only beneficial for your career, but your personal life as well. Here are a few posts we published in 2020 that help you add new lines to your resume, or just become a better individual to work with:

What was your favourite post in 2020? Is there a topic you would like to see more of? Please share your feedback with us so we can continue to provide the best resources that IT contractors need to be successful.

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?

6 Tips for Staying Patient in Your IT Job Search, at Work or Pretty Much Anywhere in Life

6 Tips for Staying Patient in Your IT Job Search, at Work or Pretty Much Anywhere in Life

There’s a common saying “Patience is when you’re supposed to get mad, but you choose to understand.” As our lives get busier and stress rises, this couldn’t be more important. We interact with people every day in both our work and personal lives, and some of them are… well… unique. As much as some individuals make your head want to explode, how you deal with them, specifically the patience you show them, defines your character and can have an extreme impact on your career.

As an IT contractor, your patience is tested every day of your professional life. Just looking for new gigs and waiting to hear back from clients or recruiters requires patience, and trying to explain your background and experience to some of them can be a complete other challenge. While on contract, you need to wait on team members to deliver parts of a project, help others understand concepts that seem basic to you, and stand by for client direction or feedback.

Yes, there is no shortage of opportunities to pull your hair out. But a lack of patience builds up more stress than necessary, rushes things that shouldn’t be rushed and, most harmfully, ruins relationships. Strong relationships are not just a necessary component to mental health. Professional connections with people who admire your character and approach to working under pressure are a key component to finding new job opportunities and succeeding in your current role.

So how can we foster patience and develop a reputation as that cool and collective colleague? We checked-in with some experts and scoured the research, and here are our six favourite tips:

  1. Know what you can control. There’s no use losing sleep, getting angry, or trying to rush along a process that simply isn’t going to go faster. Understanding when to move onto something else and accepting reality is the first step in being patience and reducing stress.
  2. Understand how important it is. And when it is a situation you could potentially control or hurry along, is it really worth it in the big picture? There’s only so much capacity we have for worrying so letting go of the less important items gives you patience for the more relevant matters.
  3. Take a break. Whether it’s a walk around the block, a phone call to friend, a healthy snack or meditation, take a few minutes to pause and breath. Clearing your mind allows you to gain a new perspective and consider the first two points above (is it in your control or even important?).
  4. Accept the situation. “It is what it is.” A saying that drives some people nuts but is also incredibly true. Things are taking longer than expected and you might have to jump through more hoops to get them done, but nothing will change that. Roll-up your sleeves, jump in, and do it.
  5. Befriend the situation. Better yet, don’t just accept it, embrace your circumstances. Take on the challenge and remember that you will be a better person. Whether you’re waiting for that slow colleague to finish a deliverable or coming up with unique ways to find your next gig, you will learn something if you allow yourself to.
  6. Be aware of your feelings. It’s alright to be angry and frustrated. We’re human and those emotions are natural, especially when stress is building up. Recognizing those feelings, though, is your first step to controlling them and moving them away. Or consider removing yourself completely until you’ve regained your patience (see tip #3)

Patience certainly is a virtue and we can all use more of it. It lowers stress levels, improves team dynamics, increases productivity and, above all, builds relationships. How do you manage your patience when you’re on the brink of exploding?

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!

Project Coaching – Think Like an Athlete

Project Coaching - Think like an Athlete

Guest Post by Gabriele Maussner-Schouten, Project Consultant and Coach
Check out the end of this post for details about Gabriele’s limited Project Coaching offer

I admit it – I am a play-off sports fan. I love watching sports when the best teams battle it out for first prize. Especially this year, watching the play-offs was a welcome distraction from COVID-19. Often, the difference between the high-performance teams is the coach. Without ever questioning it, all of us understand the value of a coach to an individual athlete and a sports team. A coach understands and believes in the strengths of the team, provides perspective and a vision.

It is a close relationship, and it goes far beyond developing a training schedule and fine-tuning each athlete’s performance. The coach understands how to leverage the inherent strengths of the team to overcome their challenges. There is great respect for the work of a coach AND, we would consider it a significant risk to an athlete’s performance if he or she decided that a coach is no longer needed.

So, why are we so hesitant to apply the same logic when it comes to projects and project managers? We move our organizations forward through project work. Often, the company future is at stake. Yet, I hear far too often “I just want to get the job done and I have no interest in paying for a project coach.” Every cost-conscious person can relate to this statement. However, the rate of IT project success has hardly improved over the last 10 years and studies show the same pitfalls over and over.

  • Lack of executive sponsorship and accountability,
  • Vaguely defined goals and insufficient communication,
  • Scope creep and lack of risk management,
  • Skill re-allocation and skill deficiency.

Since so many of the pitfalls are related to soft skills, there is a good chance that the right coach can be the difference between a successful and a failed project. Projects are tough, project managers need to work across the departmental silos, have great persuasion skills as well as stay patient and calm when conflict arises or a project team member misses an important deadline.

A project coach can help to provide a different perspective, build self confidence by highlighting the unique strengths of the project manager. Complete trust and mutual respect are essential for a supportive coaching relationship. To be effective as a project coach, the coach needs to be able to listen to the project manager, able to relate and help the project manager to weigh all options. Often, by just talking through the options the best possible path becomes clearer.

Like in professional sports, a coach can be extremely successful with one team and sports organization, but not achieve the same success with a different team. Here are some tips to find the right project coach for you:

  • A great sense of mutual trust
  • Excitement to work with one another
  • Confidence that the project coach will add value and can make a difference

A project coach provides perspective, insights and most of all a safe space to discuss project challenges freely. Like a sports coach, the project coach understands the strengths of the project manager and knows how to enhance the skill set and confidence of the project manager.

“Athletes don’t only use a coach when there is a problem with their technique; they understand that no matter how good their technique is, there is always room for improvement.” – John Perry, Sport Psychology

Project Coaching for Charity

I have a few Project Coaching spaces available right now, and I’d love to help you with your project for just a charitable donation!

As a seasoned project professional, I am very much aware of the challenges that project managers face on a day to day basis. We, as project managers, lead cross-functional teams and need to continuously problem solve and engage our project sponsors in a meaningful way.

Have you experienced one or more of these challenges?

  • You have a disengaged project sponsor and critical project decisions are made late
  • Project scope is bigger than expected and your sponsor is demanding to meet it within the initial set timeline and resources
  • Some project team members are consistently late on their tasks without a good explanation
  • There seems to be a project grapewine and you are not part of it
  • Not sure on how to communicate ‘bad news’ to your project sponsor?

Being a project manager is a very demanding role. The objective of project coaching is to become a trusted partner as well as a sounding board for ideas and a safe space to talk through project challenges.

How do we do it?

  • Set-up of 6 coaching sessions
  • Each session is between 45 and 60 min long
  • First Meeting: set coaching objectives and manage expectations
  • Discuss potential coaching themes
  • What worries you most on your projects?
  • Do you have specific coaching situations that you would like to discuss?
  • Is there a specific skill that you like to develop?
  • Agree on meeting logistics
  • Second, third, fourth and fifth meeting: Coaching sessions on agreed upon topics or on a specific situation that has arisen in the previous week
  • Sixth session: Coaching, recap and conclusion

Learning about project management in a classroom setting is very different than applying them in real life work scenarios. Coaching provides “on the job” support and skill enhancement in a safe and positive way.

What are the Options?

  • A coaching contract to sign up for 6 virtual coaching sessions (45-60 min each) in exchange for a $150 donation for your local Foodbank or United Way.
  • One on one virtual coaching sessions (60 min) in exchange for a $20 donation to your local Foodbank or United Way

How to Get in Touch

For more information, please contact me through LinkedIn or email me at gmaussner@sympatico.ca.

About Gabriele Maussner-Schouten

Gabriele Maussner-Schouten is a respected project consultant and coach with more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing practical solutions for project management success. Her expertise ranges from managing large IT projects for both private and public-sector organizations, ranging from mission- critical ERP implementations and content management solutions to providing leadership for major special events and support for enterprise-wide communication strategies.

5 Signs You’re a Difficult Person and Don’t Even Know It (and what to do about it)

5 Signs You're a Difficult Person and Don't Even Know It (and what to do about it)

We’ve all encountered difficult or toxic people throughout our professional lives. Whether it’s the difficult contractor you have to work with on a software project, the short-tempered client you have to meet with every day, or the arrogant recruiter standing between you and an IT contract. Difficult people suck… but have you considered that you might be that person in someone else’s story?

Eagle’s has no shortage of stories where extremely skilled IT professionals, while talented, have been difficult to work with or have caused extra trouble for the client. Although these contractors did exceptional work, we received feedback that the person had trouble getting along with others or caused too much conflict within the team. In other cases, the client was thrilled but the recruiter spent hours fielding complaints about previously agreed-upon rates and contract terms.

We all have our bad days, and certainly you need to stand up for yourself and engage in some debate throughout your career. But there are a few signs to watch for that might signify people see you as a chronically difficult person:

  1. You make few, if any, personal connections at work and only speak with colleagues about work-related items
  2. Every time there’s conflict, you tend to blame others without considering if you might be part of the problem
  3. You find yourself complaining to your manager more often than saying anything positive
  4. You’re often engaged in debate and fighting to be right
  5. You aren’t happy with the project and disengaged from the team, relaying a perception that you’re being difficult

If you’re reading this and immediately dismissing all five items, believing that is never you, you’re either really awesome or you’d probably better keep reading. We all have some difficultness within us and there is always room to improve. Here are a few tips for solving the problem:

  • Improve Your Self-Awareness: Ask yourself difficult questions, as well as gather feedback from others to learn more about your behaviour and how you can improve.
  • Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Perfectionism and attention to detail are traits that can help you stand out as a quality contractor, but they can also hinder you. Pick your battles and decide what’s actually worth nitpicking.
  • Find the Things That Make You Happy: In case you’re falling into the trap of being too negative, force yourself to see the positive actions your colleagues are taking and the great results that are happening on your project.
  • Watch Your Body Language: It might not be the things you say, but that way you look in-person or on video calls. Look interested and smile, showing that you do care about what others are saying and that you are considering their opinions.
  • Work on How You Criticize: Delivering criticism is a natural part of working on a team or being a in a leadership position. The way you deliver it can make the difference between being perceived as a difficult complainer or a person who gives constructive feedback. Don’t forget to include some praise!
  • Find a New Job: We’re not advocating breaking a contract, but if you’re not happy in your current gig, you won’t be able to hide those feelings for long. That will reflect negatively in your behaviour and harm your reputation for future jobs. Discuss issues with your recruiter to see if you can find a solution together. At the very least, don’t accept a contract extension.

Being a difficult person is a vicious cycle that’s hard to escape. Others start to dislike you and treat you coldly, causing you to get more negative. The good news is, it’s never too late to improve yourself! If these points have raised a few flags, we strongly encourage you to look into this deeper and see where you can improve. Fixing issues now will prevent you from closing doors later.

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?

What’s More Important? A Certification or Experience?

Eagle’s founder, Kevin Dee, recently had the opportunity to participate on a panel in a webinar hosted by CPA4IT. The event, titled The Future of Work for Independent Contracting Webinar, set out to discuss how Canadian IT contractors can survive and thrive in this time and what practical tips that they can utilize to achieve success at work as an Independent Contractor.

An age-old question was asked to the panel: What’s more important — Experience or Certifications? Kevin Dee shared an adage that was passed around at one of his previous companies — “If you do the same job for five years, do you have five years’ experience or one year’s experience five times?” See the full discussion in the video below.

Eagle’s CEO, Janis Grantham, is joining the panel for the next webinar hosted by CPA4IT on Thursday, October 22nd. They’ll be building on the previous discussion and answering questions about the future of work for independent contracting in Canada. Click here to register today.

How Important are Soft Skills for an IT Contractor?

Eagle’s founder, Kevin Dee, recently had the opportunity to participate on a panel in a webinar hosted by CPA4IT. The event, titled The Future of Work for Independent Contracting Webinar, set out to discuss how Canadian IT contractors can survive and thrive in this time and what practical tips that they can utilize to achieve success at work as an Independent Contractor.

One topic discussed was the importance of soft skills for IT contractors. As Kevin Dee explains in this video, although IT jobs require important technical skills, upping your game with soft skills like presentation abilities and interpersonal skills can give you a real competitive advantage.

Eagle’s CEO, Janis Grantham, is joining the panel for the next webinar hosted by CPA4IT on Thursday, October 22nd. They’ll be building on the previous discussion and answering questions about the future of work for independent contracting in Canada. Click here to register today.