Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Technical Skills

Tips, resources and courses for IT professionals to improve their technical skills and become more competitive in the Canadian technology job market.

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.

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.

Are You Keeping Up Compared to Other Developers Around the World?

Are You Keeping Up Compared to Other Developers Around the World?

The Stack Overflow 2020 Developer Survey was released this Spring and, as usual, delivered tons of statistics about developers, what they’re working on, how they’re thinking and where their future is going. One chart they published is of particular interest to any developer looking to remain competitive in the job market.

Stack Overflow asked developers how frequently they learned a new language or framework and the results were a testament to how fast innovations are happening in tech. Around three-quarters of all respondents — professional developers and hobbyists — learn something new at least once a year, and around half of those people said it’s closer to every few months.

Stack Overflow Survey Results: How Frequently do developers learn a new language or framework?
Stack Overflow Survey Results: How Frequently do developers learn a new language or framework?

What is Learning?

Learning can be as extensive or as simple as you’d like, depending on your goals and time available. As long as you’re expanding your mind and putting something into your brain, you’re making yourself more valuable to future clients. For example:

  • In the case of this Stack Overflow survey, respondents are saying they learn a new language or framework. We’ve shared loads of resources with suggestions on where you can pick-up these new skills.
  • You can also force yourself into learning as you go by taking on new challenges that require you to do some research and solve different problems. The Stack Overflow survey also summarized where developers turn to when they need to solve such problems.
  • There are tons of skills you already have, but might have gotten rusty. If you maintain a certification, you’re forced to keep up on skills, but how many others did you learn a few years ago and haven’t used since. It’s great to go back and refresh those every once in a while.
  • At the other extreme, some professionals look to get into a brand-new field of work which often requires more formal training. That comes with more financial and time investment, but pays off.

The Next Step is Getting There

Regardless of what you want to learn, nothing is going to happen unless you create a plan that will put you where you want to be. A high-level roadmap might be:

  1. Decide exactly what you want to do. Maybe it’s based on in-demand skills or just something you’ve been interested in picking up. Pinpoint exactly what it is you want to learn and where you want to be.
  2. Find Out What You Need to Get There. If you’re looking to expand on a language you’re already familiar with, a few websites and weekend exercises may suffice. As noted above, if you have a more ambitious goal that requires extensive learning, you’ll need to investigate formal training.
  3. Build Your Timeline (with milestones). Knowing what to do is one thing, but doing it is a whole other challenge. Create a schedule of when you’ll learn what, including milestones to keep it from being overwhelming. Now you know when to set time aside to learn and ensure you’re on track to accomplish your goal.

Learning is such a valuable and necessary task for an IT professional who wants to keep up in a fast-pace, innovative world. As the chart above shows, the majority of your competitors are developing their skills so if you’re not, then you’re quickly falling behind.

How Many of These 79 MS Word Shortcuts Do You Already Know?

Microsoft Word is filled with handy keyboard shortcuts that can help you get through writing long documents much quicker. Everybody knows a few but how many of us take advantage of everything that’s available?

GoSkills put together this cheat sheet of 79 Word shortcuts for both PCs and Macs. Some are basic and obvious but others will blow your mind. There might even be a few that you’ve hit accidentally and then sat in a state of confusion as to why Word did what it did. Regardless, this infographic will be helpful next time you’re writing a resume, putting together a technical document or submitting a report. Enjoy!

How Many of These 79 MS Word Shortcuts Do You Already Know?

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

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

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

Quick Poll Results - How many languages do you speak?

Contractor Quick Poll: How many languages can you speak fluently?

Canada is a diverse country with people coming from many cultural backgrounds. This brings communities and organizations opportunities to grow with different points-of-views and an array of unique approaches to problem-solving. At Eagle, we’re proud and fortunate to have worked with individuals from around the world with varied cultural backgrounds.

Being fluent in multiple languages can raise your profile as an IT contractor. Naturally, it opens up opportunities to better communicate with more recruiters, clients, their teams and their customers. According to this TED video we shared a couple years ago, it even contributes to how you approach problems!

In this month’s contractor quick poll, we want to get a snapshot of our readers and how many languages the average person speaks. Answer the poll below and if you’d like, add which languages you speak into the comments underneath.

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?

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.