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Category Archives: Professional Development

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

Increase Your Punctuality with These 6 Tools You Already Have

Increase Your Punctuality with These 6 Tools You Already Have

Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.

That saying has been referenced for years in various circumstances, being quoted in a number of books and commonly heard inside fast-paced business environments and military organizations. Punctuality is a trait valued by many and to lack it can have a negative impact in your job search and contracting business.

Recruiters commonly tell us that one of their biggest pet peeves is when IT contractors show up late to an interview or client meeting. If you’re a talented technology professional with in-demand skills, being a couple minutes late isn’t likely going to cost you a job (unless there is an equally talented, in-demand professional also in the running), but it will erode your reputation. People will be less inclined to want to work with you, you won’t get top priority on future contract opportunities, and your perceived value will be lower when it comes time to negotiate rate.

If you’re looking to improve this aspect of your life, before you invest in the latest apps and tools, or take on some off-the-wall technique you saw in a trending article, consider these six tools that are already in front of you and available every day.

You

Use all the fancy apps and podcast-recommended tips you can find, but until you internalize punctuality, you’ll never change anything. Truly understand why you want to be more punctual and how it will improve your life. Also recognize how being late affects others and how it makes them feel. Finally, determine the root cause about why you’re always late, and then start fixing that problem rather than wasting time in the wrong areas.

Clocks and Watches

The next tools to master are your various clocks and watches — in your bedroom, car, kitchen and on your phone and wrist. Have clocks everywhere and ensure they’re working. This will help you keep track of time and make it easy to see when it’s time to leave for appointments. A common technique is to set your clocks a few minutes ahead and “trick” yourself into being early. Critics of that say it just leads to self-correcting because you know it’s ahead, but others have researched it further to perfect the art of “tinkering with your understanding of time”. If that still seems like too much effort, then invest in a procrastinator’s clock, which runs up to fifteen minutes late, but never the same amount of time. This will force you to follow it because you’ll never know the actual time!

Calendars

Every smartphone has a calendar app installed and if it doesn’t, there are plenty of free ones available. Research your app and learn about the features it offers, for example, the Google Calendar has number of handy tools within it. Also make sure that calendar is smartly and efficiently organized — enter all information about a meeting inside the event, including location, directions and special instructions. Set reminders a few hours and a day before to ensure you don’t forget. Finally, consider scheduling the event to start a few minutes earlier than the actual time. This will force you to pay attention a little earlier.

Alarms and Reminders

It’s easy to get lost in tasks like coding, resume-writing… Facebook. Use alarms to set gentle and not-so-gentle reminders so time doesn’t slip away so easily. The most-used alarm most of us capitalize on is the one that wakes us up in the morning. That alarm comes with one of the most abused tools — the snooze button! Studies have proven that the snooze button is NOT your friend. Not only will it make you late, but it forces you out of a deep sleep over and over, which is a terrible way to start your day. If you know that habit is not going to go away, though, be sure to set your alarm earlier to give yourself a snooze window.

Maps

Popular map apps are so much more than navigation with a mouthy computerized voice telling you where to go. For example, Google Maps uses satellite to know traffic flows and will connect with your calendar to let you know what time you have to leave in order to arrive at the destination you entered. Maps are also great to help you plan ahead for parking, smartest routes, and back-up routes. As soon as you have an appointment, flag or star the location in your maps app so it’s easy to find and get directions to when you need it.

The Shelf by Your Door

This one is more metaphorical but can also be literal. The premise is to be prepared the night before a big appointment. Have everything ready to go at the door, or even already loaded in the car (which has plenty of gas in it). When it’s time to go, there will be no stress, even if you are running a couple minutes late.

There are factors beyond your control and in those situations, give a heads up to the people who will be waiting for you. If you’re not concerned about your reputation or missing out on work because you have a habit of always being a few minutes late, then let the fact that it’s disrespectful motivate you to improve your behavior. Remember, being punctual does not have to require massive change and tools, simply taking advantage of what you already have can have a great impact.

Top iOS Mobile App Developments Trends for 2020

iPhone
Photo by Koby Kelsey on Unsplash

From the dawn of its creation, the iOS mobile development platform has provided versatile and powerful options for creating stunning apps. One of the reasons for its permanent thriving is the continuous state of flux that encompasses all the latest trends in mobile app development. New iPhones are out on the market each year, including improved hardware that sets the base for innovative mobile app development, year by year. To avoid lagging behind, mobile app development companies must stay on track with the new advancements and find their place in the platform, too. If you are interested in keeping abreast of the latest mobile design trends, here are a few pointers to focus on as we are moving into the year ahead.

UI Design Trends

Each iOS app development project starts with the basic goal to improve user satisfaction, which inherently makes new progress all about UI or the user interface. The user interface must not only improve in appearance but also provide a new level of satisfaction with feature simplicity and information delivery. This is not so simple as Apple puts iPhones and iPads under the microscope each year to perk up the hardware.

A key trend of feature mobile app development on the iOS platform is leaving this focus on aesthetically pleasing apps behind. That doesn’t mean that iOS apps will no longer be beautiful but it does mean that the ease of access to information and the simplicity of use take the number one place. Therefore, iOS apps must be made from scratch or revamped to help users complete tasks in the shortest possible time.

While we are touching upon aesthetics, the blurred borders of new iPhone screens play a major role in future iOS mobile app development. Designers need to find ways to create apps that work well on older phones with prominent edges and on new seamless iPhone models.

laptop
Photo by Daniel Korpai on Unsplash

iOS Animations and Graphics

Animations are an excellent way to attract users and keep their attention in the flow as they navigate through the app features. Animations enable sleek functionality – an aspect of user experience that users are primarily looking for.

How web browser tabs, for instance, look and shift on a smartphone, as well as other aspects that soften the lines between visual appeal and functionality, are important for keeping users pleased with the product.

3D graphics may be more demanding on behalf of the mobile app development team, but rewarding nevertheless because they provide an extra level of dynamism in transferring information to users, reducing the need for physical prototypes and boosting the visual aspect of products. It is important not to overdo 3D graphics as they can slow down loading times.

Gesture-based Navigation

One of the key trends for 2020 is the placement of navigation elements on your end product. A major design principle of navigation in past mobile app development trends was to place as many buttons in the navigation bar so that users have greater visibility of what is available. As the number of functionalities is growing, this approach doesn’t work anymore because the visual appeal gets lost among all those buttons.

Designers are now focusing on a more hidden, intuitive button design, placing the maximum number of buttons on the home screen without distorting aesthetics. Functionalities are still there but are enmeshed in the gesture-based navigation. Features compressed in this way will improve the user interaction with the app and ultimately boost engagement rates – it makes more sense to create iOS products that support a few key features than making it all about endless app possibilities which will impede the smooth use of the home screen.

If you align these iOS app development trends with the design process of past products in order to update them or use them while creating new ones, clients will ultimately reap benefits that haven’t been so important while ago but are essential as we move forward.

About the Author: Michael Kelley

With a background in journalism, Michael’s passion lies in educating audiences in the realm of tech. He is especially intrigued by the world of app development and all associated facets including Android, iOS, blockchain, andd App technology. Michael has spent the last few years working with app agencies to elevate their content strategy and expand his knowledge even further as app development technologies advance. When he’s not typing away at his computer, you can find Michael traveling the globe or taste-testing pizzas in search of the ultimate pie.

How Emotional Intelligence Makes You a Better IT Contractor

How Emotional Intelligence Makes You a Better IT Contractor

Emotional Intelligence (often referred to as EI or EQ) can be a fluffy term and not always simple to grasp. It refers to a person’s capacity to both identify and regulate emotions in themselves or others. Those with high EI are able to recognize, understand, manage and reason with emotions, which they can then leverage to manage their own behaviour and relationships. As Dr. Travis Bradberry has put it “Emotional intelligence is the ‘something’ in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions to achieve positive results.”

There is no shortage of documentation and articles advocating the importance of emotional intelligence in all areas of life, so we thought we’d investigate the benefits an IT contractor can reap with enhanced EI, specifically in the job search and while working.

How Emotional Intelligence Will Improve Your Job Search

Emotional intelligence becomes truly important for the IT contractor during the interview stage of your job search. Your skills and experience will help you sail through the technical evaluation, but EI is the piece that will help you build a connection with recruiters and non-technical hiring managers. These are the folks who, as much as they understand the value of your ability to do the job, are also ensuring you will fit into the team and work well with others.

Here are a few ways you can answer questions and describe past experiences in a job interview to highlight your emotional intelligence:

  • Show your ability to manage negative emotions by moving past bad experiences on past contracts. That means refraining from talking badly about previous clients or situations and focusing on the positive aspects.
  • Truly understand your strengths and weaknesses. Know how to communicate the areas you where excel and humbly accept the skills where you fall short.
  • Provide examples of times you accepted feedback and criticism and used it as a challenge to improve yourself.
  • Accept responsibility for areas that went wrong on a previous project without placing blame on other team members. Explain how you learned from your mistakes.
  • Take time to learn more about your interviewer and the position. Share their enthusiasm in what they do so you can build a connection with them.

How Emotional Intelligence Will Make You a Better IT Contractor

In 2012, a CareerBuilder survey showed that 71% of employers value emotional intelligence over IQ. Employers would rather hire people who have high EI than who are smart. Specifically, emotional intelligence is increasingly important for technology professionals for a myriad of reasons, some of them being:

  • It helps you get along with others. Tech workers regularly interact with non-technical people. The need to connect on a level where you can explain various concepts is crucial and emotional intelligence makes it happen.
  • It gives you job security. More and more we hear about how artificial intelligence and automation will steal our jobs. For the time being, these technologies still lack the human connection, including emotional intelligence.
  • It improves your decision making. By understanding others, and more importantly, yourself, you can push past biases and understand the emotions driving a situation to make decisions that are subjective and will be accepted by others.
  • It gets you through conflict. Your job as an IT contractor is to be the expert in an area. Naturally, with that turn comes conflict within your team and with your client’s employees. Emotional intelligence forms a sought-after leadership trait to work through conflict calmly and find solutions that work for everyone.
  • It means you can work well under pressure. The ability to control your emotions, listen and cooperate with others, all while understanding their emotions means you will be a prime candidate to lead a team through crisis and short timelines.

The great thing about EQ versus IQ is that emotional intelligence can be developed purposefully. There are a number of books and resources available that are worth researching if you’re seriously interested in improving yours. To get started, experts recommend reducing your stress levels as stress is known to mask your ability to tap into your emotions. From there, take some time to recognize your own emotions and learn more about your strengths and weaknesses, as well as read social cues to read into others’ nonverbal communications.

20 Simple (and mostly free) Ways to Brighten Someone’s Day

20 Simple (and mostly free) Ways to Brighten Someone's DayWe’ve all had terrible days. We’ve also experienced the slightest gesture from somebody else that turned everything around. How many people do you interact with during your workday? Clients, their employees, other IT contractors, recruiters, the list goes on. Wouldn’t it be great if you were that person who turned around somebody else’s terrible day?

Many IT contractors are fortunate to interact with a variety of people, giving you more opportunities to brighten a day, and it doesn’t have to be grand like buying them lunch or delivering a speech filled with compliments. Many quick actions may seem small but, to the person on the receiving end, they are exactly what they needed to push them back to the bright side.

Consider trying any of these, at least once per day:

  1. Smile
  2. Help a busy colleague
  3. Compliment a teammate on their work
  4. Hold the door for somebody
  5. Bake (or bring donuts) for your client’s office
  6. Wish a nice day to a stranger in the elevator
  7. Lend your umbrella (or keep a spare one on-hand for people who forget)
  8. Ask someone about their children/pet/family
  9. Follow-up on a story they told a few days ago
  10. Fill the kettle in the office kitchen
  11. Introduce yourself to the contractor who’s new to the office
  12. Talk to the staffing agency’s receptionist when you arrive for an interview
  13. Send a hand-written thank you note
  14. Reach out to an old colleague just because
  15. Address someone by their name (studies have proven that a person’s own name is the sweetest sound they’ll here)
  16. Show your appreciation for the little things people do
  17. Invite someone you don’t know well to join you for lunch or drinks
  18. Actually listen when others speak
  19. Let someone get in line ahead of you
  20. Be nice and use your manners (it’s amazing how much these are missed in a busy world)

Doing little things to brighten somebody’s day will not only make them happier, but you’ll feel better about yourself as well. And the added bonus, they will remember you in a positive light, and that could come in very handy during your next job search.

IT Managers Want to Hire Critical Thinkers. Here’s How You Can Improve.

Critical thinking is a person’s ability to carefully and objectively think through a subject and eliminate personal feelings or opinions to arrive at a final decision. A great critical thinker not only systematically processes information to make rational, logical decisions, but they also fully understand a situation. It is an art of making logical connections between ideas and approaching a situation to get the best possible conclusion.

Many studies have been done about critical thinkers to determine what kind of people are most likely to excel in the area and there are a number of characteristics some argue which are shared among the best. We would argue that anybody can take their critical thinking to the next level and, for IT contractors, it is an absolute must if you want to remain competitive and best serve your clients.

Why Critical Thinking is Important for IT Contractors

Obviously, the ability to make tough decisions based on fact is a valuable skill for any leader. If you don’t plan on leading and are happy working as a team member, you still can’t overlook developing this ability. Critical thinking will help you evaluate situations, get your point across during a discussion (or argument), and develop the most effective solutions for clients. A strong critical thinker is also less likely to get manipulated, whether it be by a colleague, client or unethical recruiter (unfortunately, they are out there).

Most importantly, leading organizations are continually re-evaluating their job requirements and many soft skills — including critical thinking — are topping the list. In Deloitte’s 2019 Industry 4.0 readiness report, they surveyed 612 Technology, Media and Telecom (TMT) organizations, with a close look at a subset of the respondents who were considered “high innovators”. Those companies said that the number one skill they’re trying to develop isn’t technical skills, but instead Critical Thinking skills. They believe that human skills like judgement and critical thinking are unique to humans, can’t be replaced by robots, and are essential for interpretation and final decision making.

IT Managers Want to Hire Critical Thinkers. Here's How You Can Improve.

How You Can Improve Your Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a hot topic that has been flooding the internet for years. We’d be absolutely shocked if this is the first post you’ve read about it and can guarantee it will not be your last. When looking for resources to improve, start with the low-hanging fruit. Explore the thousands of online articles, TED Talks, and books that  already exist to find something that works for you.

Here are just a few simple tips to get you started today:

  • Ask yourself the basic questions you may not have specifically answered yet. What are you trying to accomplish? What do you already know? Why is this an issue? In other words, make sure you truly understand the situation.
  • Know yourself and, more importantly, your cognitive biases that will affect your decisions (this is much more difficult than it sounds)
  • Understand any assumptions that are being made, and then question them. Are they still true or relevant?
  • Approach situations from different angles and with different mediums. For example, if you’ve only been discussing it, try writing it down or drawing a diagram.
  • Get other people’s point of view. Whether it’s talking to somebody you know or reading up on the topic (amateurs on online forums or published authors will all do).

As an IT contractor, improving your critical thinking will go beyond just serving your clients. It will also help you formalize your entire contracting plan and know which technology contracts to go after and staffing agencies to work with. You are also more likely to excel at tough job interview questions and impress recruiters. How are you improving your critical thinking?

Project Calendars and Gantt Charts: What’s the difference and when to use them?

Project Calendars and Gantt Charts: What's the difference and when to use them?Project Managers use a number of tools to keep projects moving and deliver a solution to the client on time and on budget, with scheduling tools being one of the most important. While there are a variety of options, Wrike states that the two most common are traditional project calendars and Gantt charts. An article by Kat Boogaard says that the tools are similar and neither is necessarily better than the other; however, there are three distinct differences: appearance, usability, and function.

The difference in appearance is obvious — a project calendar looks like a traditional calendar where Gantt charts provide a visual representation of the project timeline. Naturally, then, usability follows as the next distinction since Gantt charts are less intuitive. Using a Gantt chart can create extra work in getting a team up-to-speed, especially when some are unfamiliar with the format. Function is the more complex difference, as Boogaard explains that each can have its own purpose. Here is what she recommends:

Use a Project Calendar When:

  • You only need an overview of key ideas: It’s easy to clearly notate things like go-live dates, meeting dates and crucial milestones.
  • You want something simple to share with other stakeholders: For example, the board of directors may just need to know a few select dates or the client might only have time to a quick glance for the crucial facts.
  • You need to schedule a meeting: Meetings are a necessary evil in projects but rarely displayed easily on a Gantt chart.

Use a Gantt Chart When:

  • You need to understand dependencies between tasks: It’s important to know what tasks will impact others for you to plan a realistic schedule.
  • You need to identify your project’s Critical Path: A traditional calendar simply can’t trace the longest line of dependent tasks. Gantt charts make it easier to know where you have wiggle room.
  • You need to manage multiple projects at once: Say good by to multiple calendars and layer different projects to get an understanding of how they overlap.

Again, the author highlights that neither of these tools are superior than the other, they just need to be used at the appropriate times. In fact, Boogaard suggests that they often complement one another and recommends using both. If you’re a Project Manager, which do you prefer to use? Or, when you’re working on any project, which do you prefer your PM shows to you?

“Having a Great Week Does Not Start on Monday… It Starts Sunday Night!”

Sunday night. A night full of great weekend memories (or regret) and next week blues. Everyone’s heart drops at the reminder that in 12 hours they will be in their car, on the bus or on the train commuting to their office. Even if you are going to your dream job, it’s human nature to feel a bit reluctant to be a slave to the office hours.

Things might be stacked against you but if you are able to channel your productivity, there are 5 simple things you can — and should do — every Sunday night to make sure that you start your week on the right foot. Just watch this video from The Art of Improvement.

Quick Poll Results: What Soft Skills Will IT Contractors Improve?

Personal and professional development should be on everybody’s mind. Self-improvement is the best way to fast-track your career, gain fantastic references, and start applying to high-paying contracts without having to build as many years of experience. According to an article published by LinkedIn earlier this year, listing the most in-demand skills, there are over 50,000 professional skills in the world. It’s impossible to know where to start!

That same article summarized the top 5 soft skills that companies look for. In last month’s contractor quick poll, we asked our readers, of those top skills, which ones do they plan to improve over the course of the next year. It’s promising to see that 80% plan to work on some sort of skill and, given the tech world’s fast-pace environment, no surprise that adapability is the top goal.

Quick Poll Results: Which of the following in-demand soft skills do you plan on improving in the next year?

How Can Technology Help Us Sleep Better

It’s 2 AM and you’re awake although it’s way past your planned bedtime and you need to be up for work in less than six hours. So, why aren’t you sleeping? The reason is probably that you’re on your smartphone or laptop scrolling down on your social media pages or binge-watching a TV show and you can’t stop. If that, in fact, is the case, you shouldn’t worry. It’s happening to a lot of us really. Just in the last several years, around 60% of young people have admitted to having inadequate sleep.

The first notion that you can get from this is that technology is bad for your sleep, but this is not entirely true. Not all technology affects our sleeping patterns in a negative way. Some studies have actually shown that you can use technology to your own advantage, and that tech can be effectively used to help you sleep better. Here’s how.

Snoring

Around 30% of people in the world frequently experience snoring. While this doesn’t affect them much, it does affect other folks in the household, especially spouses whom they are sharing the bed with.

Since snoring usually occurs when we sleep on our backs, gadgets like Philips SmartSleep Snoring device detect this and encourage the user to change position. Other devices of this kind include the Hüpnos Snoring Mask and the Urgonight EEG Headband.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is also quite common and can be caused by weight, enlarged tonsils, smoking, drinking, and some other factors. Around 20% of people worldwide suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

Programs like SlumberBUMP try to accustom people to sleep on their sides, which solves this problem to a degree. BiPAP machine is very effective at treating patients with sleep apnea, and you also might want to try Theravent EPAP technology.

Insomnia

Insomnia, which is a medical term for having trouble falling asleep, can have many causes, the most common being physical or emotional discomfort, stress, extreme temperatures, light, and depression. Almost every third person complains about having insomnia.

Some medication can help you fall asleep faster, but there is also all kinds of technology that can work to your advantage. Sleepio is a system that detects your sleeping issues and optimizes your sleep routines. If the source of your insomnia is light, try the biological Good Night LED Bulbs that were originally developed for NASA astronauts.

Narcolepsy

While some people can’t get enough sleep, others get too much of it. Narcolepsy is a disorder of excessive sleep, and while it’s not common, it still affects one in every 2,000 Americans. There are different light gadgets that you can use to alleviate the symptoms of narcolepsy, like LED Skylights, Verilux HappyLight Deluxe, and Day-Light Sky.

Nightmares

We all have bad dreams from time to time, and occasionally we get those awful nightmares that scare us so much that we are afraid to fall back to sleep again. Nightmares can be caused by stress, anxiety, trauma, or other factors. While we cannot really control what we dream about, we can still use tech to avoid nightmares from happening.

One thing called the ReScript Treatment seems to be the most effective. It helps patients have greater control over their visual imagery by implementing the creative use of virtual reality. It’s sort of a training program that teaches you how to change what you see in your sleep to a more pleasing image.

Check out a visual of some solutions below and visit the original page for the complete infographic.

Solve Your Sleep Problems with Technology

Create Your Own Happiness as an Independent Contractor

Create Your Own Happiness as an Independent ContractorGoing into business for yourself and becoming an IT contractor is a no-brainer for many technology professionals. While some take the leap and quickly realize they were happier as an employee, many others love the flexibility, benefits and challenges that come with the independent contracting lifestyle. Regardless of how you’re employed, happiness is in your control and it goes beyond finding the right job with the right company.

Chris Christoff, co-founder of MonsterInsights, recently wrote an article for Inc. where he highlighted the importance of a positive attitude at work. He references a Harvard Medical School study explaining how the right attitude will keep a steady heart rate, reduce stress, and improve your happiness. And most importantly, he notes it is only you who can change your mindset. Christoff provides 4 tips: Practice Gratitude, Help Your Colleagues, Stop Complaining, and Smile Often.

Of course, a positive attitude will be difficult to keep if you dislike your job. As we’ve noted, independent contracting presents an opportunity for IT pros to build work-life balance and that should lead to more happiness. According to this article on FastCompany and written by John Rampton, though, there are 10 myths to Work-Life Balance that set false expectations, stress out entrepreneurs and set you up for failure, inevitably making you resent your career path:

  1. Myth: It’s actually about achieving balance.
    Truth: There’s no such thing as “balance” but instead, it’s integration or Be fulfilled everywhere.
  2. Myth: Life needs to be compartmentalized.
    Truth: It’s not possible to divide everything evenly. Some days have more work, others have more leisure.
  3. Myth: You can have it all.
    Truth: There are always trade-offs and sometimes you have to give something up to have it better somewhere else.
  4. Myth: Time management is the answer.
    Truth: Don’t trust outdated time management tips that say you can go completely off-grid every night.
  5. Myth: Technology will give you more free time.
    Truth: Technology is an assistant, but you still need to put in effort.
  6. Myth: It’s what employees care about most.
    Truth: Those you work with or manage often prioritize meaningful work over the flexibility of their location and hours.
  7. Myth: The early bird catches the worm.
    Truth: Waking up early doesn’t necessarily lead to productivity. And working late isn’t bad either.
  8. Myth: You never have to work during off-hours.
    Truth: IT contractors especially do not have this luxury. If you need to (or want to) be working, then you work.
  9. Myth: The less you work, the happier you’ll be.
    Truth: “It’s not about how many hours you work or do something you love. It’s about the quality of how you’re spending your time.”
  10. Myth: Everything has to be scheduled.
    Truth: Schedule important tasks but leaving gaps in your schedule opens up for flexibility and spontaneity.

Whatever your role, how do you maintain happiness in your work life? Do you agree with the advice provided in the referenced FastCompany and Inc. articles? As usual, we love your feedback, so please share your comments in the section below.