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5 Ways to Lead an IT Team When You Have No Authority

5 Ways to Lead an IT Team When You Have No AuthorityHave you ever started a contract tasked with overseeing a project and leading some of the client’s employees, only to have no authority whatsoever over those people? It’s a common scenario for IT contractors, especially Project Managers. You’re accountable for a project and are required to motivate individuals to complete tasks on time and to specific standards, but have no official pull over them.

Leading without authority is no simple task, but there are strategies to master it. Here are five tips to consider next time you’re stuck managing a team in the capacity of an independent contractor:

1. Accept That You’re Not the Boss

You must come to terms with the fact that, no matter how much it feels like it, you are not the boss. You have no official authority and cannot dole out consequences, so don’t act like a tough manager. Instead, you’re a leader. Provide logical reasons for why tasks need to be done a certain way and explain the natural consequences of what will happen if they’re not (ex. the project will fall behind). The team does not need a micromanager dictating how to do every little thing, but rather an expert who understands the situation and can clearly communicate the objectives and outcomes.

2. Communicate Regularly

Speaking of communication, that is the next key to leading with no authority. Communication is a two-way system and it needs to happen regularly and positively. While you may lead the conversation, ensure that you are not completely driving it and others have a chance to speak. This is how you can ensure the team is all on the same page and following the same goals. You can work together to set expectations and make agreements on when/how work will be completed. When these are created as a team, they are more likely to be adhered to.

3. Lead by Example

Actions speak louder than words and if you want people to follow and listen to you, you need them to trust you. It’s important to take action and show that you’re as committed to the project as they are and working just as hard. On top of that, offer to help your team when they’re backed up or going through a crisis.

4. Be Humble

Your extensive credentials and massive amount of experience compared to other members on the team is irrelevant… at least to them. While it is alright (and necessary) to demonstrate your qualifications, there is no reason to regularly remind people. It’s important to publicly thank people, give credit where credit is due and, most importantly, recognize when people are smarter than you.

5. Get Ahead of the Negative People

Regardless of how much you follow tips 1-4, you are going to end up here at #5, dealing with the negative person who resents you and refuses to respect your position and your efforts. The good news is, if the person is openly resisting you, it’s often a sign that they care about the project. Embrace this individual’s passion but don’t let them waste your time. If somebody has no desire to work with you, do the minimum you need to with them, and work closer with those who are willing to work as a team. When you meet with your client, you can discuss the performance of the employee and develop a way to better engage them.

Leading is not an easy task in any role, and when you have no authority, it is a completely different challenge. As an independent contractor, you must remember that employees have invested themselves into the organization and the project.  They are passionate and want to know it is going to work. When you display that you want to work with them, towards the same common goal, leading starts to get much easier.

25 of the Best Picard Tips from the Past Year

Star Trek fans far and wide adore Patrick Stewart’s character, Jean-Luc Picard. They trust his ability as captain and would follow much of his advice. So much so that over 100,000 people follow the novelty Twitter account @PicardTips. It features daily tips that, while often humourous and relate to Star Trek, nearly always provides valuable advice on management, personal development, technology and other topics.

We scrolled through and, as expected, @PicardTips has plenty of one-liners suitable for the IT contractor. Here are our favourite 25 from the past year…

  1. Picard programming tip: A computer is like a mischievous genie. It will give you exactly what you ask for, but not always what you want.
  2. Picard engineering tip: Even if computers can talk now, remember how deeply stupid they are.
  3. Picard management tip: Data is easier to manage than humans.
  4. Picard management tip: Break a complex, urgent problem into subcomponents, one for each of your lieutenants to solve.
  5. Picard devops tip: No, you are not allowed to connect your brain to the computer. Learn to type like everyone else.
  6. Picard diplomacy tip: When communication is breaking down, try to speak the other person’s language.
  7. Picard ethics tip: The fact that a conflict has many sides does not imply that every side has merit.
  8. Picard management tip: Tell your employees when they do well, even if you believe they are empathic and can read your mind.
  9. Picard social tip: A Vulcan can laugh. A Klingon can soothe. A Ferengi can give. Your preconceptions are not facts.
  10. Picard resistance tip: Occasionally there are times when you must draw a line and refuse to budge.
  11. Picard management tip: Everyone’s a critic, but some criticisms are more correct than others.
  12. Picard management tip: In a strange new environment, be wary of making changes until you understand more about what’s going on.
  13. Picard management tip: Put your experts in a conference room, tell them the problem, then shut up and watch the magic happen.
  14. Picard programming tip: When the holodeck malfunctions, stay in character. Don’t piss off the computer.
  15. Picard management tip: Give your crew the best technology available and you’ll be amazed what they can do for your enterprise.
  16. Picard programming tip: The first version of any software will be buggy. That’s why so many holodeck programs try to kill you.
  17. Picard technology tip: An advanced system isn’t always easy to use. Improve the interface, or try pushing buttons at random.
  18. Picard management tip: Adopt the latest technologies right away, even if they’re in beta.
  19. Picard management tip: Don’t negotiate absurd schedules with engineers. Encourage truth telling and reasonable time estimates.
  20. Picard engineering tip: Don’t allow the computer to push you around. Let it know who’s boss.
  21. Picard management tip: Be willing to ask for help, even from people you dislike.
  22. Picard technology tip: Sometimes your chief engineer can build new systems that are better than your existing enterprise software.
  23. Picard programming tip: Don’t be fooled. Machines have feelings.
  24. Picard management tip: If they know their jobs, leave them alone. If they don’t, help them learn.
  25. Picard management tip: Know when to put on a happy face. It’s part of adulthood, and essential for command

Contractor Quick Poll: Early Bird or Night Owl?

Perhaps one of the top benefits of being an independent contractor is that you get you set your own hours. Certainly, your client will request you are available and on site for some meetings but overall, IT projects can be worked on during any time of day.

While the old “early bird gets the worm” adage holds true in many circumstances, studies have proven that all individuals are different when it comes to productivity. While many people are most productive when they wake up early and get a head start on the day, it still isn’t feasible for a large portion of the population. That segment prefers their sleep in the morning and are much more productive later into the evening.

In this month’s Contractor Quick Poll, we’re asking IT contractors which sleep schedule makes them most productive. Assuming you get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep (ha!), are you an early bird who likes to get up with the sun and go to sleep sooner, or do you consider yourself to be more of a night owl who does phenomenal work well into the night and then sleeps in the next day?

New Resume Tips for IT Contractors

Take the generic technology resume advice you keep hearing (even here) and set it aside for a second. Those regular tips you hear are valuable, but so are the not-so-common pieces of information that you can find from some job search experts. In our regular quest for knowledge to share with the IT contracting community, we recently came across new resume tips and want to make sure our readers know them too…

Some Lesser-Known Resume Tips

Glassdoor published an article with 10 resume tips you probably haven’t thought of. While not all are relevant to an IT contractor and there are even a couple we do not necessarily recommend, this list does help a job seeker get into a different frame of mind:

  1. Only Include Your Address If It Works in Your Favour
    (our advice: if you have to lie or hide something, you probably shouldn’t apply)
  2. Be a Name Dropper
  3. Utilize Your Performance Reviews
    (or for a contractor, include references and testimonials)
  4. Don’t Go Overboard with Keywords
    (PLEASE consider this point strongly)
  5. Use Common-Sense Email Etiquette
  6. When It Comes to Skills, Quality over Quantity
  7. Choose to Share Social Accounts Strategically
  8. Use Hobbies to Your Advantage
    (our advice: hobbies are less interesting to a client hiring a contractor, compared to an employee looking for a permanent team member)
  9. Skip Generic Descriptors
  10. Keep an Accomplishment Journal

Flip-Flopping on the Objective Statement

Speaking of uncommon resume advice, although we’ve noted independent contractors need not include an objective statement on their resume, Pop! Your Career believes there are times it can help. According to their recent post, they say an objective statement is useful if you are:

  • Changing your career direction
  • Joining the Workforce
  • Returning to the Workforce
  • Looking for different type of work
  • Changing locations

In summary for an IT contractor, we stand by the fact that the objective statement isn’t helpful for the seasoned technology professional who regularly works with the same recruiters, if, however, you’re making any sort of change, its worth highlighting it at the top of your resume.

A Winning Resume-Writing Formula from Amazon

Over the summer, Business Insider interviewed a recruiter from one of the top IT companies in the world, and a place where thousands of technology professionals aspire to work — Amazon. In the resulting article, recruiting manager Celeste Joy Diaz provides a winning formula to use when writing your resume. Instead of a laundry list of tasks and skills, she says that every project should start with this phrase: I created a solve for X amount of customers and it saved X amount of money, using X skill.

What do the x’s represent in Diaz’s phrase? Data. Rather than bunch of fluff, centralizing your resume around this phrase ensures that you’re providing quantitative measures that show recruiters and hiring managers exactly what you accomplished.

What other outside-of-the-box resume advice can you provide? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments below. If you have a great source or article, please let us know. We love learning new things so we can pass them along.

Does Everyone Really Need to Learn to Code?

As an IT contractor, you will not be surprised to hear that experts forecast a surge in programming jobs for many years to come. Consumers are continuing to demand new technology at increasing paces and IT companies will meet or exceed those demands so they can remain competitive. The result is a common train of thought that everyone should learn how to code because their job is going to require it. Even on this blog, we’ve made this argument and a recent quick poll proves that many IT professionals agree.

But this video from PolyMatter has a different opinion. Instead, they argue the push for teaching everyone to code is strictly political and, in fact, a developer role is nothing more than a skilled career path like a surgeon. “It is just a job, not a basic universal skill.” What do you think? Should everyone learn to code?

10 Steps to Take Before Becoming an Independent Contractor

Frances McCart By Frances McCart,
Vice-President, Business Development at Eagle

The shift into the “gig economy” in Canada is growing at a very quick rate, especially in the tech sector. More and more people are choosing to become independent contractors and for many good reasons.

  • You decide what you do
  • You decide who you will work for
  • You decide where you should work
  • Opportunity to gain exposure to new work environments with every new contract
  • Exposure to new technologies
  • Exposure to new ways of thinking
  • Freedom to take more time off
  • Opportunity to make a higher income
  • “Potentially” getting away from office politics

With so many people interested in getting on the bandwagon, I am often asked the question “Where do I start?”

The first piece of advice I give to “would be” contractors is to speak to contractors they already know.  Ask them what they like about being an independent contractor and to dig down into what worries them about being independent (ie: not finding a role, too much time off between positions, etc.).

10 Steps to Take Before Becoming an Independent Contractor

Here are 10 additional steps you can take before entering the world of independent contracting:

  1. Risk assessment
    • How long can you afford to be off for between landing gigs?
    • How flexible are you on your rate in order to land a new role and still be financially comfortable?
    • Are you comfortable with uncertainty?
  2. Update your resume – keep in mind you may have to have several different versions depending on the position you are going for.
  3. Set up your company.  While it’s recommended to work through this with an accountant, setting up a corporation is not too difficult.  There are many online guides to point you in the right direction, including a number of resources here on the Talent Development Centre. You’ll also need to get an HST/GST number and set up a corporate bank account.
  4. Consider getting corporate CGL and E&O insurance. You are a corporation and a professional. Not only will this insurance protect you liability-wise, but it can also contribute to proving your independence and help protect you when being audited by CRA.
  5. Set up a website that can act as a resume, complete with testimonials and samples of your work.
  6. Get business cards to market your business and help with networking.
  7. Update your LinkedIn profile and ensure it is tagged, notifying recruiters and would-be employers that you’re seeking new opportunities.
  8. Let your network know you are becoming a contractor and looking for new contract opportunities. Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool, including as an IT contractor.
  9. Align yourself with agencies and get to know them well. Keep them updated as to your status once you land a new role or are becoming available. Ensure you send them an updated resume after each project is completed.
  10. Start networking!! Take every opportunity to get out and meet people. You never know how you will land your next role.

This might seem like a lot to do but it is not. Many contractors have told me that they were reluctant to get into contracting as it seemed daunting to go through the above steps.  However, once they became a contractor and landed their first role, they comment that they should have done this sooner!!

Quick Poll Results: How do IT contractors manage accounting?

There are many components to accounting that, if done wrong, can lead to disaster for your IT contracting business. This is not only true for how you record the numbers, but also who manages them.

Depending on your strengths and time availability, it’s not uncommon for independent contractors to pass accounting work off to a relative, close friend or professional. Or, some prefer to manage it themselves to know it’s done how they want it done.  What’s important is that you trust the right person to do your accounting, or you may end up in serious trouble.

In last month’s contractor quick poll, we asked our readers who manages their accounting and the results are split quite evenly between people doing it themselves or hiring a professional. Keeping in mind that everybody’s situation is different, do you think you should switch up who’s looking after your books?

Quick Poll Results: Who Does Your Accounting?

The 5 Easiest and Best Programming Languages to Learn Today

Last week week we shared a post with advice for aspiring IT professionals over the age of 30 who want to get into the technology industry. The article concluded with 5 languages to learn that would be easiest to pick-up and most likely to land you a job. If you weren’t convinced or satisfied with the advice provided in that post, then here’s one more source.

Clever Programmer put together a list of 5 languages that they recommend learning first AND you don’t need a college degree to do so. The items in the list were generated based on three factors: the time it takes to learn it and get a job, the current job market and demand for those skills, and how quickly you’ll be able to bring your ideas to life.

If you’re looking for your next skill to learn, this video may have the answer for you.

Yet Another Post About Productive Meetings

The ability to host and/or be a part of productive meetings is an important skill to have. In fact, we believe it’s so important that we’ve shared tips to do so at least once every year since starting this blog: How to Host Productive Meetings (2014), Tips for Running Effective Meetings (2015), How to Improve Your Meetings (2016), Believe It or Not, Meetings CAN Be Productive! (2017). And now, in 2018, we’re back with yet another post to help you get maximum productivity out of what can be long, dreadful, useless wastes of time.

It’s crucial that IT contractors know how to run productive meetings. First, you bill your clients by the hour and they want to know that they’re getting the most out of you and that you’re not wasting their employees’ time. But what about the time you’re not billing? Now you’re sitting through meetings that are costing you money! This infographic from Wrike provides ideas to host productive meetings and you could use some of the tips when you’re not even the host (for example: confirm if you really need to be there or at the end of a meeting, take the initiative to ask the leader who is assigned to action specific tasks).

9 Proven Strategies to Make Your Meetings Highly Actionable (Infographic)

Considering a Career in IT? Don’t Let Your Age Stop You

“There’s no time like the present!” — that inspirational cliché is used around the world and can be applied to any topic… and it’s true! It’s never to late to start something new, including a career in technology.

There’s a myth that unless you’ve been immersed in tech from a young age, you’ll never understand it enough to build a solid career in the industry. According to Dice, that is a straight-up lie and anyone, even those over 30, can start or reboot a career in tech. Naturally, it will not be easy and you will have more hurdles than the IT professional who jumped from high school immediately to post-secondary education in the field and then right to the workforce.

Here are 5 tips Dice provides for anybody who wants to start a career in tech, but later in the game:

  1. Know Your Stuff: Begin by focusing on a specific language and the major frameworks supporting it, and also be able to prove that you’re not a “one-trick pony”.
  2. Network: Start digitally by following developers with careers you aspire to, then find local people in tech and attend their meet-ups. Remember to be positive and keep in mind that the tech community is small.
  3. Have an Online Tech Presence: Be easy to find on places like LinkedIn, as well as sites such as GitHub and Stack Overflow. Don’t underestimate the power of a blog!
  4. Take Side Projects: Get into the Gig economy by taking on a few extra jobs, but keep in mind you may need to undercut your price when starting out, especially if you use sites like Upwork.
  5. Accept the Tech Elephant in the Room: Ageism is real and you’ll need to deal with it head-on. Prove your skills and ability, but also be honest about your age and what prompted you to start so late.

Like many, you may have stopped at point #1 — what specific language or framework should you learn? Fortunately, Dice has you covered there in a separate article they wrote last Spring where they provide the best programming languages to learn first:

  1. Python
  2. JavaScript
  3. C#
  4. Swift
  5. Java

Dice believes that these are not only the easiest languages to learn but are also in high enough demand that you’ll get a job. Each also has specific uses, so it’s worth exploring which one interests you as an individual and working from there.

We hope this article has helped motivate you as well as give you a few tips if you’re looking to get into the IT industry but have been concerned about your age. If you’re already an experienced developer, please take a minute to share this with a friend who may be looking for a career change. It may be the best thing you’ve ever done for them!