ESP IT Welcomes Tim Schinke as VP of Sales & Recruiting

Tim Schinke VP of Sales for ESP ITWe are pleased to announce that Tim Schinke joined ESP IT in June as VP of Sales & Recruiting. His responsibilities include providing effective and inspiring leadership, creating and developing new sales strategies for ESP’s future growth, and ensuring ESP’s clients always receive the highest level of care.

Prior to joining ESP IT, Tim gained 25 years of leadership experience, holding several Vice President of Sales positions within the technology and software industries. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated success in teaching and mentoring technology and sales professionals and shown expertise in ERP software at companies including PeopleSoft, SAP, and Salesforce.com.

His extensive experience and passion will play a key role in ESP IT’s future growth strategy and success. Tim will also foster powerful collaborative partnerships between ESP IT and our clients. Tightly aligned to ESP’s mission of placing people first, Tim encourages his team to care and listen at a higher level to better serve our clients. He will continually strive to hire smart and energetic people and to encourage and equip them to grow and succeed in their careers.

Find out more about Tim by reading his full bio on our website.

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4 Reasons to Celebrate the Twin Cities’ IT Job Market

Celebrate The Twin Cities Firework ImageBrilliant, lustrous fireworks along the Mississippi. Barbecues in the lazy warmth of summer. People decked in festive displays of red, white, and blue. As we bask in the glow of post-Fourth of July celebrations, we’re once again reflecting on why we love the Twin Cities. And, as an IT consulting firm, we’d be remiss to not to give special attention to our number one reason: The Twin Cities rank among the best in the U.S. for tech opportunities. From its growing number of available tech jobs, to its recent acclaim as a hot spot for tech startups and companies, the Twin Cities offer all the IT opportunities of Silicon Valley, plus higher collaboration and a lower cost of living. Though Minnesota has graced the tops of multiple “best” lists for various reasons, we’ve pulled out the top 4 reasons Twin Cities IT pros should celebrate where they work:

1. Minneapolis Is The “Silicon Prairie”

The Twin Cities are a burgeoning mecca for IT startups and small businesses. Of the largest metro areas in the U.S. in 2013, Minneapolis ranked third for employee success in small businesses based on such factors as job growth relative to overall workforce and population trends, monthly earnings for new hires, unemployment rates, and cost of living. The following year, NerdWallet named Minneapolis the 4th best place for startups based on determinants such as affordability, access to funds, networking and mentorship, and the success of the local economy. More recently, the Star Tribune coined the phrase “Silicon Prairie” to describe the continued success of Twin Cities small businesses and the growing capital raised by local tech companies.

Not only do these statistics bode well for entrepreneurs and CEOs, but an ever-expanding tech industry also means an abundance of opportunities for tech pros – 164,500 opportunities according to the Cyberstates 2016 report. While a large portion of those roles are within the tech industry, demand for IT pros in the Twin Cities is also high in the financial services, healthcare, and manufacturing industries. Best of all, those opportunities are poised for continued growth, as the beginning of 2016 saw Minnesota ranking the number 1 state for job creation.

2. The Twin Cities Knows How To Compensate

Though a large number of opportunities in and of itself is good news for IT pros, the profitability of those opportunities is even better news. CIO ranked the Twin Cities #4 on their 2015 list of 10 hottest cities for IT pay, and the numbers have only improved since then. The average salaries for tech workers in the Twin Cities cracked six figures in 2015 – rising 9% from the previous year (a whopping 1.3% above the national average for IT salary increases), and the average tech industry wages were 78% higher than those of workers in the private sector.

What’s more, this high compensation pairs with the low job-related stress of Minneapolis’ small business community and the nationally-recognized high work-life balance of tech jobs. Data Scientists, Software Developers, and Web Developers are listed among the 10 best careers for work-life balance.

3. We Welcome Women Techies

You may have heard recent rumblings of a report that claimed the Twin Cities are not the place for women techies. Nothing could be further from the truth! Not only has the study’s accuracy and methodology come into question, but many other recent reports directly contradict such findings, and point toward the opportunities available to not only Twin Cities women in tech, but all Twin Cities female professionals – with Rochester, Minneapolis, and St. Paul locking in the top three spots respectively on NerdWallet’s list of Best Cities for Women in The Workforce 2016.

As for the tech sector specifically, both Minneapolis and St. Paul graced SmartAsset’s 2016 list of the Top 15 Cities for Women in Tech, due to low gender pay gaps, a higher-than-average percentage of tech jobs filled by women, and a high three-year employment growth. And we expect that growth to continue. In its pilot year, the Twin Cities TechHire initiative trained over 300 people through accelerated IT programs, with women comprising 32% of graduates and minorities 24%. Other groups have launched additional programs to encourage diversity in the Twin Cities tech sector. Though these initiatives are still in their early phases, the Twin Cities tech community is excited to see the change and growth that may be enacted in the next few years.

What’s more – there’s good news for techie moms and dads alike: Minneapolis has been called the #1 place to raise a family in the US. Just one of the many reasons we’ve found working moms who love IT, also love the Twin Cities.

 4. The Market Demands Learners – The Twin Cities Delivers

The market value for IT certifications in Security, Dev Ops, and Big Data has continued to rise across the board, with Security and Data Presentation skills falling among the most in-demand Tech skills for the Twin Cities, specifically. Clearly education – whether in the form of IT certifications or degrees – is important to IT hiring managers, and we all know the value of niche skills in the midst of today’s ever-evolving tech market.

Luckily, when it comes to education and learning opportunities, the Twin Cities delivers. One 2015 list ranked the Twin Cities among the top 10 most educated cities in America, and Travel and Leisure also included Minneapolis/St. Paul in their top ten list of “America’s Techiest Cities” – not to mention their list of top 5 cities overall. And yes, being so highly-educated we are aware that ‘techiest’ isn’t exactly a word (but we maintain the legitimacy of ‘you betcha’).

Furthermore, the University of Minnesota’s business programs in Management Information Systems (B.A.) and Information Systems (M.B.A.) are nationally ranked 3rd and 4th, respectively. The school also ranks in the top 100 for computer engineering and computer science. It’s no wonder, then, that in 2013 the Twin Cities increased their IT higher education output, despite an 11 percent national decline in IT degrees completed in the U.S.

 

We know you enjoyed taking time off of work to catch some of the amazing firework displays that illuminated the Twin Cities skyline on the Fourth, but as an IT pro working in the Twin Cities, you have reasons to celebrate even after your holiday is over. Perhaps the knowledge that sub-zero weather lies ahead makes us feel extra appreciation during these beautiful mid-summer days, but we think that Minneapolitans in general are living the good life. And don’t just take our word for it. The Twin Cities have been named the best place to live in the nation, and New York Magazine has dubbed Minneapolis the “capital of Midwestern cool”. With so many reasons to celebrate where you live and what you do, we know you’ll be shooting off fireworks well into the dog days of summer. Happy (belated) Fourth of July!

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published in 2013, and has been revamped to reflect updated tech industry information as it pertains to the Twin Cities’ IT job market

Are you an IT pro looking to advance your career by moving to the Twin Cities? We can help.

Contact Us To Learn More About Twin Cities Tech Opportunities

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Removing The STEM Learning Gap: You Need Girls To Code

Girls Who Love To Code ImageSheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer, and IBM’s president and chief executive Virginia Rometty prove that while the representation of women in tech is disproportionate, it certainly still has a presence and success rate to boast of. The significance of three women at top tech companies may somewhat discredit the belief that a lack of women role models is the main reason for the female talent shortage, but that the gap exists and is in fact growing, can’t be ignored.

One of the most popular explanations behind why there aren’t enough women working in tech is that there aren’t enough women trained to work in tech. Not only significant for the negative impact that this lack of diversity can have on STEM workplaces, the dropping number of women studying computer science also limits opportunities for women and hurts the economy as a whole. Though groups such as Girls Who Code and Women Who Code, and programs such as the national Tech Hire Initiative have all made strides to encourage increased female tech education and provide learning opportunities, the success of the movement ultimately depends on your help.

Whether you are a decision maker at a tech company, or you’re an individual working in the tech sector or elsewhere, you can make a big difference. By learning more about the long-term benefits to your investment in female tech education, and the three simple yet significant ways that you can motivate change, you’ll not only help the tech industry and national economy to thrive, but can change the future for yourself and the women and girls in your life.

As a Business

The Value of Stepping In:

Women Can End the Tech Talent Shortage

In the ever-growing tech industry, opportunities are plentiful – and in fact, overabundant. The tech talent shortage threatens that there are not enough skilled IT workers to fill current tech needs. Ultimately, this leads to lost productivity and high turnover due to overworked staff and a highly-competitive tech market, and some fear there isn’t a solution in sight.

Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani disagrees, citing that as 71% of all STEM jobs are in computer science, the obvious solution is to encourage more women to pursue computer science degrees. According to Reshma, at the current rate of women pursuing tech jobs, only 3% of the world’s 1.4 million IT jobs will be filled by females. In Minnesota alone, 164,500 people work in tech occupations, and last year saw a 4% increase in tech opportunities overall for the state. Women will likely be the key to filling these additional needs.

Luckily, the Twin Cities are among the best in America for women in tech, with the percent of women holding jobs in tech in St. Paul and Minneapolis equaling 26.5% and 25.2% respectively, and an average annual growth rate of 18%. Still, that percentage has room to grow when you consider that woman make up around 50% of the population, but hold only about a quarter of the available tech jobs.

Though increasing STEM educational for women won’t yield immediate results to help fill your company’s female tech talent needs, by supporting educational programs or working to develop or strengthen your own, you’ll be among the first to reap the benefits of a diversified tech team.

What You Can Do:

1. Educate to Employ: Build Your Own Pipeline

Etsy has been one of the most successful companies to increase its number of women in tech. In just one year the company’s number of female engineers grew 500% – from only 3 engineers, to 20. They’ve accomplished this through sponsorship of a summer Hacker School, which has allowed them to build their own pipeline by gaining access to a pool of qualified, up-and-coming women technologist. These programs are a win-win, as they allow you to support the female tech education movement while simultaneously helping you bridge the tech gender gap in your workplace by training your own future employees.

2. Ditch “Trial and Error”: Develop Targeted Trainings

Gender learning differences are a major deterrent for some girls who would otherwise enjoy studying computer science. Many girls feel frustrated by and uninterested in their high school and college programs, which teach computer science using “trial and error” methods that aren’t as effective for women’s learning styles. Whether you’re looking to build your pipeline by creating a summer school for girls, or are interested in opportunities to train your current female employees more advanced tech skills, ensure that your teachings are structured, and help women feel safe by encouraging them to ask questions rather than “figuring it out” without guidance. By helping them to build a foundational knowledge and gain some confidence with coding, you will encourage them to continue their learning and eventually become more comfortable with the “trial and error” nature of tech programming.

 3. Assemble The All-Stars: Team-Up with Local Initiatives

Get involved with initiatives such as the Minnesota High Tech Association’s Tech Experience tours, or consider partnering with the National Center for Women and Information Technology by sponsoring their Aspirations in Computing Award Program, which honors high-school women for their STEM achievements. Not only will your involvement and support help empower women to learn programming, but as with “building your own pipeline” this initiative could directly benefit you by increasing the pool of qualified female tech candidates interested in working with you in the future.

As an Individual

The Value of Stepping in:

Eliminating The Skills Gap Creates Equal Opportunities

Why should bridging the stem-education gap take precedent over other gender inequality issues? In one TED talk speech, Reshma Saujani cited a study that found bright girls were more likely to give up when challenged, while bright boys were more likely to double their efforts. In her own time at Girls Who Code, she said she’d witnessed similar attitudes by girls who were uncomfortable with their imperfect work. Overcoming these perfectionist ideals could help women to become more confident and more employable, giving them the opportunity to reap the financial perks of the tech industry, including high compensation and competitive health benefits.

Additionally, by transforming the tech industry from a male-dominated field to a more gender-balanced field, women could help end stereotypes that they are “less-qualified” to work in tech. One Digital Trends article reported studies from Harvard Business School, Wharton, MIT Sloan, and Yale, which all uncovered accounts of gender bias for tech workers. Increasing the number of women would lead to a better understanding of the value of women techies in the workplace, which in turn could lead to a larger societal awareness about gender equality and promising future prospects for your daughters, friends, and loved ones.

What You Can Do:

1. Combat “Perfection or Bust”: Adjust The Messages You Send

During her time at Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani said she’s witnessed an attitude of “perfection or bust” among high school girls, who would rather “show nothing at all” instead of showing failed attempts to write code. In many ways, encouraging girls to learn coding has more to do with teaching them to be confident and take risks than it has to do with trying to interest them in “tech” as a subject matter. If you are a parent, teacher, or friend, encourage the young girls and women you know to follow Reshma Saujani’s advice and “be comfortable with imperfection”. By teaching girls that perfection isn’t everything, you instill in them the confidence to take more risks and ultimately pursue STEM careers.

2. Encourage ‘Play to Win’: Explain That STEM Opens Doors

Computer science opens doors to a variety of career opportunities in the same way that a foundational knowledge of other core subjects does. You wouldn’t let high school girls choose whether or not they wanted to study English, math, science, or history, and neither should we be viewing computer science as optional. While some schools, such as the Chicago School District, have made computer science courses mandatory as part of a local and national Computer Science for All initiative, many others have yet to follow suit. That’s why it is especially important for individuals to promote and support early female tech education. Remind girls that tech skills are required for a surprising variety of positions  – from writing and literary opportunities to more-traditional business roles. Learning computer science isn’t only for girls who want to work in the tech industry: it’s for anyone who wants to stay competitive in the job market.

3. Follow The Leaders: Connect With Female Tech Role Models

There are a plethora of programs and female leaders who can motivate, inspire, and educate young girls in technology. While it’s encouraging to know of the existence of these successful women in tech, physically connecting young girls to female role models is even more important. That’s why UK company “Everywoman” launched its “Modern Muse” app, which connects women to others in their field and provides tips and inside information regarding opportunities. You can help women to get involved and access resources by launching your own networking groups on LinkedIn, or even creating your own app to connect women. Just by being tuned-in to the opportunities for female tech education, such as Hackbright Academy or the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program, you can become part of the movement to empower girls to learn tech and gain IT career opportunities.

 

Girls Who Code’s COO Solomon Steplight recently shared his personal mission, and motivation for teaming up with the company. “I wanted, at the very least, to create thousands of potential mentors for my daughter,” he said. No matter what your motivation for supporting increased female tech education – be it helping your business to succeed by increasing the amount of qualified female techies who could work with your company, ensuring a daughter or niece isn’t limited in her future opportunities, or even advancing your own career – your efforts make a difference. We could all benefit from a future with more women in tech, but in order to achieve that, we need to encourage girls to learn computer science today. No matter what your involvement in or knowledge of the tech industry, by implementing these simple strategies, you can become a key part of the movement toward a thriving future.

For more about Women in Tech and bridging the gender gap, read our first blog in this series:

Know a female techie who’s looking for a great new opportunity? Contact Us today or Send Us Your Referrals

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Do Working Dads Love IT?

While articles are frequently published about the challenges of being a working mom, the challenges for working dads have historically stayed off the radar. But as more male millennial professionals step into fatherhood, the importance of work-life-balance for dads has become a hot topic. One 2013 survey revealed that fathers, even more so than mothers, reported unhappiness with the amount of time they had to spend away from their families, and reports since then have boasted similar findings. Luckily for dads working in tech, balance can become a reality.

Most tech employers already know the importance of offering competitive benefits and fun perks to attract and retain top talent. What they might not realize is that many IT pros seek family-friendly benefits over some of the flashier perks (i.e. unlimited massages, free meals, and yoga) offered by the tech behemoths of Silicon Valley. ESP IT’s own Millennial employees agreed that in both their own professional experiences and through the years of helping their peers in the tech industry to advance their careers, perks that encouraged work-life balance and time with family were a top priority.

Luckily for tech employers and IT pros, the tech industry has made a name for itself for allotting increased flexibility to fathers – including paid paternity leave, flexible scheduling for full-time IT employees (and even greater flexibility to tech contract workers), the ability to work remotely, and ever-increasing paychecks that allow dads to comfortably support their families. Because of this, tech jobs recently comprised approximately half of a 2016 list of Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance.

Not only are dads in IT able to spend important hours at home with their families – they’re able to strengthen and encourage their children by including them in their work. In one article, a techie dad writes that by engaging with his daughters about his work he is able to expose them to the tech industry (something we encourage all IT pros to do to promote a future gender-balanced IT workforce) while bonding with them over his passions – thereby strengthening their relationship in new ways.

Whether it’s an issue of spending more time at home with the kids, being able to support the family, or fostering valuable skills for your loved ones by sharing in what you do, dads (and moms) who work in IT really can ‘have it all’. For more information about working dads and IT, check out our infographic below.

IT Pro or otherwise, wishing a very happy Father’s Day to all!

Do Working Dads Love IT Infographic

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published in 2013, and has been revamped to reflect updated tech industry information and working dad statistics.

Dads: are you searching for your next IT opportunity?

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Give In To Summer Fun: How To Keep Your Tech Team Productive

Give In To Summer FunFrom weddings, to family vacations, to daycare needs, the summer months demand more time of your tech employees than any other season. Not only can these busy schedules pose a threat to your team’s engagement, but conflicting vacation schedules and availabilities can also lead to lost productivity and delayed project timelines. However, the opportunities presented by this season far outweigh its challenges. Tech employers who strategically leverage the summer months by offering additional workplace perks and tactically navigating schedules create an open environment conducive to employee happiness – a key factor to increasing retention and engagement throughout the year. Rather than panicking over the obstacles that lie ahead, consider the following strategies and perks that you can use to boost productivity and keep things running smoothly.

Summer Strategies That Save

No matter what perks you can offer to boost your IT pros’ happiness, your team is still likely to encounter productivity road-blocks. Not all vacations will line up, and the dog days of summer can make employees feel lethargic and cooped-up. Luckily, you can help your team to overcome these challenges with some simple strategic planning. Hint: get ready to mix things up!

1. Re-Prioritize, Re-Arrange, Re-Organize

Prime vacation season doesn’t have to be the most unproductive time of the year. You might need to cancel a meeting where only 3 of the usual 15 people are present in order to be respectful of everyone’s time, or encourage a re-organization or re-prioritization of projects. Think of it and promote it as an opportunity for your employees to be productive in new ways like using the quiet to focus on more strategic or creative projects, explore/learn new technologies, or develop career-advancing practices such as coming up with innovative ways to compile code faster. Your IT pros will enjoy the change of pace from their “usual” schedules, and might be able to wrap-up important projects that have been sizzling on their back-burners due to time constraints.

2. “Plan” Vacations

Studies have shown that tech pros are more productive when they are well rested emotionally and physically. “The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound,” said Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist who specializes in stress and relationship management. “Most people… are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out.”

However, encouraging vacations doesn’t mean allowing your IT pros to go off without a plan. Before he or she leaves, talk to your employee about what needs to get done, and how involved they will be when they are away—will they check their email occasionally or be without cell coverage?—so you can plan accordingly and keep things running efficiently. To keep morale up and resentment low, create clear back-up plans so employees still in the office know what tasks they are and are not responsible for covering while their teammates are away.

3. Find Time For Vitamin D

Eat lunch with your team outside, find a park nearby where you could hold a more-casual meeting, or simply take a walk around the blog with your team to relax and reset. The vitamin D will do everyone good, and after you all get over the initial sunshine or full-stomach haze, you’ll have a more productive afternoon. As with most things, people need to find a balance for work-life in the summer: the trick is to not over-deny or over-indulge. Employees are likely to spend as much time being unproductive thinking about, craving, and hoping to be out of the office as they would be by taking a little time away. Rather than continuing to feel cranky or resentful, these small ‘give-ins’ are likely to boost their attitudes, and your team’s productivity, through the “real” end of summer in late September.

Summer Perks That Pay-Off:

As a tech employer, you already know that incentives are hugely important when trying to attract and retain the best IT talent. The summer months are a great opportunity to put a few additional company perks into place – giving you the chance to truly showcase a flexible and fun workplace environment without breaking your budget. Whether you are a business owner who is able to implement all five or an IT manager who could organize just one or two, by investing in the following perks and promoting your team’s happiness, you can expect an output of quality and efficiency.

1. Don’t Just Allow Vacations – Encourage Them

If offering unlimited vacation isn’t the right choice for you, consider helping your employees to fund their vacations. Moz’s $3000 vacation reimbursement program for staff members who take advantage of their allotted 21 days of vacation per year is a unique perk that garners a lot of attention for the company.  While such a large amount isn’t realistic for everyone, you might consider using travel funds as a reward for employees who hit important milestones (i.e. 1 year, 5 years, 10 years) working with your company, or offering bonuses to contract employees in the form of airfare or hotel bookings that could be paid for with company frequent flier miles.

2. Invest In Team-Bonding

One survey revealed that “company retreats” are among the top 7 perks valued by tech pros – including those who work at big-name companies such as Airbnb. Taking time out of the office reduces your team’s stress and increases their workplace satisfaction by throwing hierarchy’s out the window, fostering friendships, and giving team members the opportunity to interact with others (perhaps remote employees or IT contractors) who they don’t get as much face-time with during a normal day. Such outings are especially popular among tech startups, who see these events as a “rest and recovery” from the hard work that goes into launching a new company.

Whether or not you are working in the booming Twin Cities startup industry, rest and recovery is always important for your IT pros’ well-beings – and physical fitness is a great way to promote increased brain functioning. Consider taking your team to do something active, such as kayaking/canoeing, laser tag, or jumping at a trampoline park. It doesn’t’ matter if your plans are extravagant or simple; the most important thing is to get out and have fun together.

3. Keep it Flexible

While some IT employees and contract workers may always work remotely, consider allowing others the flexibility to take increased remote working days during the summer. If your IT pros are seeking regular remote time (i.e. one or more days a week) work out a schedule with them to establish which days must be worked in-office, and which can be remote. If possible, try to coordinate your out-of-office days as a team, so that time spent in-office can be used most effectively.

Some companies also allow IT employees and contractors to use flexible scheduling, letting them work weekends or nights as needed to reach 40 hours instead of a typical 5-day work week. This work-life-integration model is an especially important option for tech contractors, who might otherwise avoid vacations for fear of losing out on their hourly rate.

4. Hail Happy Hour

Whether in-office or out-of-office, hosted or not, happy hours are a great way to have some fun. Though these do fall under the umbrella of “team bonding”, happy hours can be an easy and affordable opportunity to get together for more than just one big activity during the summer. As a manager: consider taking your team out a little earlier than usual and buying the first round. Or, coordinate a company-wide happy hour in your lunchroom or at a local pub. These can be as often or sporadic as you like.

5. Close the Doors and Don’t Look Back…For a Bit, Anyway

As with mandated holiday closures in December and January, summer closures can be a good way for business owners to save money on their overhead, and encourage the team to all take vacations at once – thereby reducing the amount of lost productivity due to differing summer vacation schedules. Adobe closes its office for 1 week during both the summer and winter, and tries to align these closures with the holidays. Most companies offer this time in addition to any vacation hours allotted.

Is a week-long closure just not possible for your company? Other options include offering an extra day or two off surrounding holidays (for example, the weekdays before or after the 4th of July), instating an “early office closure” policy on Fridays or closing the office one Friday a month.

 

All work and no play does not make for a successful tech team! The summer months are a time for fun – and that should include time spent in the office. At the same time, you don’t want to host so many activities that the office becomes a distraction. By employing strategic planning and special perks to maintain a healthy balance of work and “fun” over the next 3 months, you can lead your tech team to success. Who knows – with their creative juices flowing, maybe your team will create the next big app, or experience a breakthrough in your data analytics strategies. Give in to summer fun, and reap the rewards of a happy, productive, and creative IT team.

For more tips on managing your tech team and fostering a successful working environment,

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What Do Millennial IT Pros Need to Know?

The Millennial members of ESP’s team weigh in on how their own professional experiences and their recruitment interactions with Millennial IT pros have shaped their view of the Millennial generation, and provide some advice to their peers in the tech field

What Do Millennial IT Pros Need to KnowIn many ways, the challenges of a Millennial workforce have already been addressed. The internet has produced extensive myth-busting content about the Millennial generation, as well as tips to help bridge the gap between Millennials and older generations. We’ve learned that there are gaps even within the Millennial generation that can cause workplace tension, and that ultimately, Millennials are comprised of individuals with unique needs in much the same way as their predecessors’ generations were. But the question remains – why do Millennial stereotypes persist, and how can we end them for good? Perhaps the answer involves Millennials looking inward to identify the ways they are perpetuating these stereotypes, and seeking solutions that will turn the talk in their favor.

Working at an IT consulting firm, ESP’s employees get the chance to interact not only with Millennial IT consultants and job seekers, but also with Gen-X and Baby Boomer tech hiring managers. And because Millennials comprise over 60 percent of our in-office staff, we experience our own workplace gaps while also having the opportunity to witness how other Twin Cities businesses operate. That’s why we decided to host a “Millennial Round Table” and discuss what advice we’d give to our Millennial IT consultants and job seekers based on these observations and experiences. The resulting 3 “need-to-knows” for Millennial IT pros can not only help you bridge the generational gap with coworkers and have a more positive working experience, but can also help you become more established in your tech career – ultimately leading to career growth and success.

Need-To-Know #1: There Are Things We Could Collectively Be Doing Better

In 2015, Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1999) officially surpassed Gen-X to become the largest generation in the American workforce. Couple this with the fact that 36 percent of all millennials ages 18 to 34 have cited a desire to work within the tech industry, and you can guarantee that Millennial IT pros comprise a large majority of the candidates that tech hiring managers are interviewing.

As Millennials helping other Millennials grow their careers, we understand how easy it can be to point fingers, claiming “them, not us” about others in our generation. But working in an IT consulting and staffing firm, we’ve had the rare opportunity of experiencing firsthand some of the difficulties Gen-X hiring managers encounter when interviewing and working with Millennial tech pros – and believe us, many of them are founded in first-hand experiences, not preconceived notions. Craft a more positive narrative for Millennials by adjusting your mindset, and developing new habits.

Throw Out Lofty Expectations and Prepare to Climb the Ladder

“It’s a constant bombardment of: ‘what is ideal?’ or ‘what does everyone else have, relative to where I “should” be, or where I’m at right now in life?’ That creates unrealistic, lofty expectations.”

When it came to discussing the career expectations of the Millennial generation, we were all in agreement: we need to be more prepared to work our way up, gradually.

Shannon Paradis, one of the ESP IT recruiting team’s Millennials, said, “Frequently when I work with Millennials seeking new tech opportunities, there’s a lot of false expectations, usually too high, about culture, work-life-balance, and salary. A lot of the younger candidates that I’ve talked to that are right out of college are expecting moon and stars because they’ve seen some of their friends land great jobs, but the reality is you’re not always going to have the perfect job, particularly right out of school.”

In an extremely hot, candidate-driven tech market, high and even unrealistic expectations are natural. Often times, these expectations are not the result of an IT pro’s “inflated” sense of worth, but are instead the product of false information about the tech market. Many recruitment firms use dollars as a hook to attract IT pros and stand out from the crowd of other offers in the competitive market. Unfortunately, these promisers don’t always deliver. Though the Twin Cities tech market is booming, what’s true of the Silicon Valley doesn’t always apply to employers in the Silicon Prairie.

The bottom line: though you may hear talk of first jobs that live up to your ideal, those opportunities are not the norm.

Getting ahead in the corporate world sometimes means playing whatever role your company needs you to be in. You might not get to work with the “sexiest technologies” or make groundbreaking decisions about the direction of your company’s tech department right off the bat.

But the good news is that by not limiting the kind of work experience you’re willing to gain, you’re much more likely to ultimately achieve your “ideal”.

Talk to tech hiring managers and recruiters about your career path, the experience that you’ve earned so far, and where you want to go. With a mapped-out path ahead of you, you can focus on moving up and growing your skill sets.

Don’t “Ghost” On Your Professional Connections

“Myths about how Millennials are ‘lazy’ or ‘impatient’, can just come down to a lack of understanding about how we operate in a different world from what others grew up in. But if we’re coming to be known as ‘flaky’ then we need to be educated about the importance of calling ahead, arriving on time, and engaging with our network.”

Don't Ghost On Your Professional ConnectionsA few rules of the professional world stand the test of time:

  • Never be late to an interview
  • Maintain connections – don’t burn bridges
  • Practice open and honest communication

Though Millennials should all be well aware of these best practices, many of our Millennial staff have had an encounter with another professional in their generation who left the negative impression of being “flaky”.

While a hot tech market may lead some Millennial IT pros to believe that making connections has become a less-important industry practice, maintaining a strong professional reputation remains one of the most important aspects to advancement in IT – and particularly in tech consulting.

In our round table, ESP’s HR Generalist Emily Zlab compared some of the behaviors that she’s noticed to “ghosting” – a term used in the Millennial dating world to describe someone who’s dropped off the digital face of the planet. “But when it comes to professional interactions” she says, “you can’t just drop off. You need to respond in a professional way.”

IT gig-seekers: it’s much better to communicate with a recruiter or hiring manager if you have lost interest in a position, than to simply “drop off”. Clear communication and a reasonable explanation will not only help you to keep your professional reputation intact, but can actually enhance it.

Whether or not the opportunity before you is one that you want to pursue, by maintaining connections, not burning bridges, and otherwise exhibiting reputable behavior (i.e. following these tips for interview success) you leave your options open for future opportunities with a consulting firm or employer.

Need-To-Know #2: If You Want to Overcome Stereotypes, Become A Millennial Advocate

The real reason Millennial myths need to get “busted”? Much of what we hear about Millennials isn’t founded in research or facts, but instead comes from opinions and individual interactions. Yet, there are some truths about the Millennial generation that differentiate them from those who came before.

For example, the “sharing culture” of Millennials means that less working professionals ages 18-34 invest in items such as cars, houses, and luxury bags. While some from the previous generations see this as a “negative” quality, for many Millennials, these purchasing decisions are the result of economic constraints (i.e. the hefty amount of college debt accumulated by the generation, and the proven decrease in Millennial’s household earnings) rather than personal preference, or indifference to long-term investments. In the same way, there are misconceptions surrounding many other Millennial “myths” – but it’s up to you to reveal these areas, and prove that they shouldn’t be perceived in a negative light.

Cater To The Positives

“I’m tired of being told that our generation is all go-with-the-flow. No plans, no commitments, no investments. There are some positive truths about the Millennial culture that are often misunderstood.”

Millennial IT pros must answer the question: What differentiates you from your predecessors? Is it simply an increased familiarity with the newest technologies? Or do you bring other unique contributions to the professional world? The truth is that not all “stereotypes” about Millennials need to have a negative stigma, and many of them can be presented to tech hiring managers in a way that showcases the value Millennials bring to a team.

  • A Fresh and Enthusiastic Perspective

In general, someone who is new to or a few years into his or her IT career brings new knowledge, creative ideas, and a fresh perspective. Regarding the Millennial generation specifically, we’ve learned that Millennials are eager to rise up and achieve, and search for feedback (both positive and negative) that will help them to do so. As the only Millennial member of ESP’s leadership team, AnnaLisa Krupnick shed further light on the way these behaviors can appeal to a hiring manager. “The question frequently is – do I hire someone with enthusiasm and fresh perspective? Or do I hire someone who’s been in the industry for longer? It’s a hard question to answer, and will differ for every opportunity. Sometimes hiring managers just have to go with their gut.”

  • Fusing Passion and Creativity with Tech

A popular truth about Millennials is that they want to feel like their work makes a difference. Not only has this lead to a generation that is more passionate about the work that they do, but it’s also led to a generation that places a high value on creativity. Because of this, many Millennial tech pros seek to work in creative industries, or industries that they are passionate about. Millennials can use this as a “selling point” during an interview by explaining what they value most in a workplace, why a particular company appeals to those values, and also how having a passion for different fields uniquely qualifies them to succeed in a contract gig. By showcasing a level of investment in a given company that extends beyond your day-to-day tech work, you’ll prove to a hiring manager that you are a good fit, and worthwhile investment.

  • A Culture That Shares, Invests in The Community

Another positive stereotype about the Millennial generation is that they are more invested in their community than previous generations have been. This can mean that Millennials are more likely to volunteer within and outside of an organization, and strive to give back to their professional and personal communities. And, as ESP recruiter and Millennial Alex Webb pointed out, “The scope of our ‘communities’ are so blown up, too – if I share something with my LinkedIn community, all 500+ of my connections know about it.” Let hiring mangers know what community means to you – whether you’re interested in helping to organize your company’s volunteer day, or you’re an IT consultant whose network of connections could prove valuable to your client.

Understand How You Interact With The Stereotypes

“Some Millennial stereotypes are true of you as an individual and others are not – we’re a whole generation of individuals.”

Whether perceived as positive or negative, most Millennials likely do identify with a few of the stereotypes about their generation. The key to acknowledging when you do align is first understanding why this stereotype is true of you, and then exploring ways in which you personally live it out. These questions for Millennials will help them to identify where they land on important Millennial topics, and what their tech hiring mangers or IT recruiters need-to-know.

  • Can We Keep our Flexible Hours but Prove We’re Not Lazy?

Working From Home ImageHow can Millennials prove that leaving by 3 or working remotely doesn’t mean they’re putting in less hours, or being less productive? The key is understanding that what may seem “lazy” to others is often actually “efficiency” to the Millennial generation. As ESP Account Coordinator Monica Matson explained: “I would much rather have the flexibility to respond to emails at night and connect with consultants when they are available. I enjoy that I can minimize my commute by leaving a little earlier, get home at a decent hour, help my fam cook dinner, and continue to work later in the evening.”

Yes, it means abiding by the stereotype that Millennials are “plugged-in” to technology much more than other generations, but this allows them to practice the highly-valued work-life-integration model of working different hours, not less. Make sure to tell your IT recruiters up front if you prefer opportunities with flexible scheduling, or remote capabilities. On the other hand, if you differ from the pack and prefer a standard 9-5 schedule (as some of ESP’s Millennial teammates do), make sure to share that information with hiring managers to avoid being stereotyped.

  • Do Job-Hoppers Have a Positive Case for Themselves?

Research has shown that the average worker will hold 10 different jobs before age 40 – a statistic that leaves tech hiring managers especially fearful in the midst of the talent shortage. But as ESP Associate Recruiter Armel Martin pointed out, just as IT consultants learn and grow from their many different experiences, this sort of job-hopping can “make us much more adaptable and versatile.” Though some hiring managers see this frequent job change as Millennials having “short attention spans”, oftentimes the job change results from Millennial’s desiring further growth, which they feel can come only by having a variety of experiences.

That’s not to say that growth opportunities are the sole motivator behind frequent Millennial turnover. Another common reason that Millennials leave companies is in pursuit of increased work-life balance. And though some may negatively label this desire as “self-love”, statistics show that employees who feel they have a greater work-life balance are more productive, more engaged, and are better brand ambassadors for your company than those who burn out from overworking.

Millennial IT pros: if either the desire for further growth or the pursuit of work-life balance have been reasons for your previous job change, share that information with your technical recruiter. Knowing what has and hasn’t worked for you in the past will help him or her identify the types of opportunities that will better serve you in the future. On the other hand, if you are a Millennial tech pro with a track record of loyalty to one or two companies, or who has held multiple contract gigs that got extended due to the excellence of your work – point that out! Always seek to identify the ways that you stand out from the crowd.

Need-To-Know # 3: Part of the Generational Gap is an Experience Gap

By the end of our round table, the ESP team had acknowledged quite a few “truths” about the Millennial generation that all seemed to share a common theme: many of the negative “true stereotypes” about Millennials might not really characterize us as a generation. More commonly, they seemed to be the result of inexperience.

Whether you’re an IT pro who is newly graduated from college or graduate school, or you’ve been working in the tech industry for a few years already, acknowledge the areas where you may still be on a learning curve. In doing so, you not only show respect to your Gen-X coworkers and supervisors by recognizing their expertise gained through the years, but you also give yourself permission to take a step back, and be comfortable with where you are.

It Takes Time to Establish Yourself Professionally

“When people are new in their careers and are coming-of-age professionally, they’re figuring out who they are and what they’re good at and how they work. People make mistakes early in their career that they wouldn’t make later on.”

The big question for both older Millennials and professionals born in previous generations: what mistakes did you make when you were first starting out? As a group, the ESP Millennials caught themselves more than once referring to the youngest in our generation (those just now graduating from college) as “they”, not “us”. We had to ask ourselves – have even those within the Millennial generation been associating the “Millennial” term with professional novices?

ESP IT recruiter Devin Fischer thinks so. He reflected on his own journey and his professional interactions with both Gen-X and Millennial IT pros, saying: “For a 21-year-old to be perceived as ‘immature’ by someone who’s been doing their job for 15 years… it isn’t that shocking. I’m sure that those folks also had mentors early on in their career who perceived them in the same light. Maybe it’s not a generational thing – maybe it’s an age thing, a maturity thing, a life thing.”

Perhaps the most important tip for Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers to help bridge the generational gap, then, is to take a step back, remember what challenges they faced when they were first starting out in their careers, and see if there are any parallels in their current experience with Millennials at their workplace.

Alexis Will, ESP’s Administrative Assistant, agrees. “I feel like there’s always a sense of ‘this generation isn’t living up to us.’ Or ‘things aren’t as good as they used to be’. That keeps happening –we are guilty of doing that when we look down on Gen-Z. It’s part of history repeating itself.”

But taking a step back and reflecting on Millennials’ inexperience isn’t only the responsibility of the previous generations. Millennials, too, need to learn how to acknowledge the areas they have yet to grow in.

Debunking the common myth that Millennials are entitled, our Millennial team instead acknowledged how much pressure their generation puts on itself to succeed. Rather than thinking they deserve to hold a high-level role, Millennials seem to be worried that they are somehow not achieving what they “should” be, or (as Alexis stated) not living up to expectations. Our advice? “Get rid of that pressure. Take a job, figure out what you like, what you’re good at – then move forward.”

Finally, sometimes advancing your career in the long run means “taking a step back” early on. For many tech pros, higher education can feel like one such step back. The tech talent shortage has increased the number of tech pros able to find work without first earning their degree, and many have debated whether or not computer science degrees are still valuable. Factoring in the cost of school, those who choose to earn their degrees may feel that they start out their adult lives “behind” those who entered tech careers right out of high school. But the long-term benefits to choosing school can mean greater opportunities for career advancement in the future. Seek to understand the long-term outcomes of your hard work and early choices, and be okay with waiting to reap the rewards.

You’re Adapting to a Different World

“We’ve said we’re adaptable. If that’s true – let’s adapt a little. Your first job might not be your dream job. You might have to work different hours than you want to until you have proven yourself and earned some flexibility in that area. We can’t just walk in with a plan that, ‘we want to work this way’. We’re playing in ‘their’ world, and it’s a game we have to play.”

Adapting To Business WorldMillennials want to change the world – and that can be a really great asset of the generation. Generational-cycle science identifies Millennials with the Civic generation model: “focused on ‘how to clean things up’”.

But the world won’t change overnight, nor should it. Positive change happens gradually, over time, from the inside. In order to enact change, we have to first embrace the current systems, and understand why they are in place – recognizing the good intentions of those who came before.

For Millennial IT pros, this means understanding that your previous experiences (in part-time jobs, colleges, and internships), and your expectations entering a new career might not translate. The working world is a meld of Baby Boomer, Gen-X, and Millennial practices – and we all have to “give” a little to help this world run smoothly.

If you seek flexibility, you too must be flexible.

This means being prepared for a few hiccups your first time in the professional world, and trying to be open to learning opportunities and growth within your current role before job hopping. Consider how often others really land their dream opportunities right out of college, and you’ll probably discover – despite the few instances you read about on social media – that this doesn’t commonly happen. Adjust to a supervisor who may prefer phone calls or in-person interactions to text or IM (or try meeting him or her halfway with email). In turn, you may earn yourself the flexible hours, remote working capabilities, and career advancement opportunities that you are searching for.

To any future IT pros who are still in school, we encourage you to use college as an opportunity not only to gain knowledge about the newest technologies, but to learn about building a resume, interviewing, and life in the professional world. Seek internship opportunities that will help you to gain the soft skills and professional experience you need to land a job. The youngest Millennial of ESP’s team, Kelsey Lyngdal, explained how valuable working in our downtown office has been for her career. “That’s something unique that I can have coming out of college that my friends don’t have,” she said.

Understand that, no matter what, no one enters the working world 100 percent prepared. When asked if they felt that their expectations were ‘totally realistic’ upon entering their professional careers, the Millennial members of ESP’s team responded with a resounding ‘No!’

Many on our team encountered difficulties when they were first starting out in their careers – and a large majority of our Millennial employees began their careers in our office. However, just as we have experienced success and a high level of happiness as a team, we are confident that Millennial IT pros – those sought-after commodities with the hottest skills on the job market – will experience great satisfaction in their careers, as well.

 

With a little introspect, and a lot more understanding on both sides of the generational divide, Millennial IT pros can overcome stereotypes, experience satisfaction, and thrive in their careers. Though the term “Civic generation” will probably never stick over “Millennial”, when we recognize our historical role to be a generation that enacts positive change we are able to confidently move into the future that’s being crafted. By adapting to the world that they are currently operating in, looking inward to make self-improvements, and advocating on behalf of a generation that is setting out to do great things, Millennial IT pros can earn their place as leaders and experts in the tech industry.

Are you a Millennial IT pro seeking new opportunities, or a tech hiring manager seeking fresh talent? 

Contact Us Today

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3 Stories to Tell at Your IT Interview

Storytelling ImageOnce upon a time…an IT pro wished above all else for a successful interview.

Fortunately, IT job seekers and contract professionals don’t need a fairy godmother to grant this wish. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the best interviews are conversations, not interrogations. And in order to keep your interviewer engaged in your conversation, you need to know how to tell a good story.  Fortunately, we have tips for telling three key stories in your next interview.

Think back to your childhood: to the stories you heard at bedtime, at school, around the campfire. In some ways, wasn’t the experience of being told a story just as enjoyable as hearing the story itself? Similarly, a successful interview requires good storytelling. A story told right is memorable and interesting, gives you substance, and will help hiring managers separate you from the pack of paper resumes and interviews they’ve conducted. Answer the following questions to help you prepare your stories in advance, and you’ll be sure to captivate your audience.

1. The “About You” Story: Introduce The Protagonist

Many interviewers will begin by asking you to: “Tell me about yourself.” While it’s fine to reveal some personal things about yourself — like where you grew up or your favorite hobby — this is not the time to detail your entire life history. This is your introduction story.

What does your audience want to know? Though the “about me” question can serve as a great opportunity to begin building a connection with your interviewer, remember that this question mainly seeks to uncover details about you as an IT professional. The most important information to include will be: your career goals, interests in the field, and value as a potential employee or consultant. However, keeping your answers professional does not have to lead to a “boring” interview. Incorporate key information into your introduction story – using anecdotes of what about technology interested you and how you developed your specific skill sets. Draw your interviewer in with a story about how the website you developed as a teenager got you interested in a tech career; or exhibit your flexibility by citing specific examples of times when you put that skill to use. Not only does telling these stories allow you to showcase your personality, but it also helps to validate the information you are sharing.

What do you and your interviewer have in common? You want your audience to connect with you as the protagonist of your “about me” story, and research shows that people are more likely to feel invested in others when they share common ground. If possible, try doing a bit of research on your interviewer prior to your interview, and make note of any commonalities between you. Perhaps you attended the same university, or went through a similar career change. If so, incorporating that information into your anecdotes can help you to establish rapport with your interviewer. If you don’t notice any immediate similarities between yourself and your interviewer, search for differences that you may be able to draw attention to, or opportunities to ask your interviewer more about XYZ aspect of his or her career. One of the best ways to draw your interviewer “off script” is by connecting with him or her over the reason that filling this position is a priority. If possible, try to end your “about me” story by drawing a connection between your skills sets and what you perceive to be the “gap” this position is seeking to fill. Don’t be afraid to ask you interviewer questions to get him or her to participate in this dialogue.

2. The “Overcoming A Challenge” Story: Kick Off The Inciting Incident

When asked to describe an experience in which you overcame a conflict or challenge at work, you want to tell the story in a way that highlights the skills necessary to succeed in the IT position for which you’re interviewing and/or show that your ideals align with those of the hiring company.

Engross your audience – why was this a challenge? Give weight and substance to the challenge you faced, compelling your audience to wonder what could have happened if things hadn’t gone your way. Make sure to explain why the situation was challenging to you. What external professional/personal factors made things even more challenging? Were your own knowledge gaps the greatest hindrance to a quick solution? It’s okay to show some vulnerability; it’s important to keep the listener invested in the outcome. But on that note, be sure to center the main focus of your story around the professional aspect of your challenge. Though personal details may have played a part, you’ll want to avoid oversharing personal details, remembering that your interviewer is seeking to identify your assets as a potential employee or IT contract employee.

What was the end result? Conclude your story with a brief reflection of what you learned. More than likely, you didn’t do everything perfectly your first time handling a new challenge. Why were the mistakes you made important growing opportunities for you? Explain how the lessons you learned strengthened you as a potential employee, making sure to mention the changes/improvements you would make to overcome a similar challenge in the future. On the other hand, don’t forget to give yourself credit for the things you did right. When describing how you approached the situation and why, make sure to emphasize what the resolution of the conflict meant for your company or team — and your role in making it happen. Whether it was your innovation, perseverance, or positivity that helped you to get through the challenge, highlight the assets that your story showcases you bringing as a potential hire.

3. The “Strengths” Story: Develop Your Character

Don’t just say that you’re innovative, passionate, and detail-oriented; tell the story to back it up, while playing up the strengths that are most relevant to the position.

What specifics can you share to impress? If you’re interviewing for a position as a project manager, provide an anecdote of an instance in which you demonstrated leadership. You’re the protagonist of your story, and you want the interviewer to understand and like your character. Vague descriptors will not be as evocative as specific, relevant details. Describe the actions you took to reach a specific outcome, providing tangible benefits and results rather than a glossed-over explanation. What sounds better: “my efforts increased engagement with the website” or “by the end of the month, the improvements to the website had attracted over 5,000 additional visitors”? Likewise, instead of describing yourself as detail-oriented or organized, cite specific ways that these traits play into your daily productivity. Are you big on to-do lists? What is one instance that your lists helped you to stay on track and accomplish a large goal?

How long is too long? Remember: nothing kills an interview like a long-winded tale. Aim for concise and interesting responses. Kurt Vonnegut – famous for his written short stories – advises story-tellers to: “Start as close to the end as possible” and “give your (audience) as much information as possible as soon as possible” in order to craft an engaging short story. This means that you should avoid going into long “background” stories, or using “even as a child I liked to organize my blocks…” as an anecdote to reflect your personality. What are you doing now that is significant and showcases your strengths? Not all anecdotes require additional information, and you can strategically leverage any “gaps” in your story as opportunities for your interviewer to engage with you and ask follow-up questions.  Learn to command the brevity of your interview stories by practicing them in front of others before your interview for a smooth delivery.

 

Why is storytelling the key to a successful job interview? Stories are a key component of good branding. Like strong brands, strong stories are unique, memorable, and captivating. Market your personal “brand” successfully in the job interview by mastering the art of storytelling, and you’re sure to leave a lasting and positive impression on your interviewer.

For more interviewing tips, visit our website.

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published in 2013, and has been revamped to reflect updated industry best practices.

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On Tap: Foundational Pillars To Any Successful IT Consulting Career

Tech on Tap LogoTech on Tap is an ESP hosted happy hour and networking event that connects technology professionals and business leaders with other experts in the field. Last fall we launched our first ever “Tech Talks”, and had the opportunity to learn from three speakers about new languages, methodologies, and emerging tech trends.

In anticipation of our upcoming event on May 12th at Modist Brewing, we’ve asked one of the speakers from our last event – Bruce Krupnick – to publish his talk as a guest blog:

Tech consulting is an expansive career choice. Over the course of my many years in the industry, I’ve learned that success in such a non-traditional and somewhat unstructured role heavily depends on a strong foundation. For me, Adaptation, Skills Growth in a Directed Career, Insightfulness, and Flexibility have been the four career-building “pillars” that have stabilized me, and granted me the strong foundation necessary to thrive. Your IT consulting career will present you with many opportunities to grow in these areas. By maximizing such opportunities, I believe you will be able to truly take command of your career and experience great success as a consultant.

Become Adaptive in an Ever-Changing IT Workscape

Consulting requires constant adaptation. I’ve done application design and development, infrastructure, and proposal work – going from Mainframe to AS/400 to Distributed; Client Server to E-Commerce and Web platforms. In parallel to that, I’ve transitioned from Waterfall to Rational Unified Process to Agile and into varieties of that like Banyan, which has included all sorts of mixing and matching and nuances along the way. I’ve helped more than several clients with their platform or methodology transitioning, leveraging an adroit adaptation skill to the hilt.

So how can you learn to become more adaptive as a professional in the ever-changing field of technology? Focus your energy on skills growth. Ask yourself the following:

  • “What is the assignment, and what might be available for other assignments in the same or similar environments?”
  • “How are requirements managed at the steps before they reach me, and after my work is complete?”

From one opportunity working with RUP I embraced the concept of traceability, and I’ve often pitched that skill as a value-adding dimension to my consultant career. RUP also conceptualized iterative development, which later gave birth to AGILE – another important takeaway from my tech gig. But even if a gig isn’t going to necessarily expose you to new skills or technologies, remember that every chance to work within a professional organization can benefit your consulting career simply by providing a networking opportunity. The connections I made from my IDMS expertise days in an IDMS/ADSO Users Group, I still find rewarding.

Grow Your Skills in a Directed Career for Competitive Advantage

Clients value the diversity of talents, skills and backgrounds that a consultant brings to team efforts, which is why it’s so important to grow your skills in a directed career path. To direct your career, it is essential to have goals. When I worked for one particular consulting firm, I was determined to fill in some critical knowledge gaps. I launched the role of account education coordinator, and proved myself invaluable to the entire team.

Later, my first goal upon becoming a project manager was to gain a close familiarity with all knowledge aspects – the methodology, processes, pros and cons – of the SDLC as specific to each platform and industry in which I had contracts. My second goal was to feel comfortable in forming, providing deliverables to, speaking to, and listening to a steering committee, and learning how to enlist and maintain the support of key stakeholders to sustain a project through implementation. Though my second goal was particularly geared toward project management, a good goal for developers could be to learn how to obtain support from your 360’s.

The best way to create these specific goals and strategically grow your specialized skills is by seeking out and building relationships with a variety of professionals, especially those who can provide information, intelligence, and career guidance. Your IT recruiter can be a very valuable resource to you. Let him or her know where you want to go in your career, what you want to do, and what your experiences are with the clients you are serving so that they can better understand and advise on what you might want to do next to maintain a competitive advantage.

Gain Broad Insights About Your Consulting Projects

Once you understand the expectations of the stakeholders, spend some time figuring out why such outcomes are desirable. Delve into what the competition in your industry is doing. Glean perspectives on where your client is coming from, where the company appears to be going, and where it desires to go. When I begin a project, I seek to gain these perspectives by uncovering what top management expects to achieve. From there, I’m able to examine my assignment and the project it is part of to determine whether it is in or out of alignment with those expectations.

While consultants generally don’t want to “rock the boat” too much or uproot major plans and systems, your client expects to benefit from your professional expertise – and this includes knowing when a project may need to take a slightly different course. On that note, it’s important to determine what type of information will be most valuable for you to communicate, and whom you should be sharing your insights with. By gaining a broad understanding about the motivation behind your specific project, you’ll be able to advise appropriately and experience the long-lasting benefits of a solidified reputation as a trustworthy consultant.

Become Flexible and Adept at Adding Value to the Client

While flexibility is essentially a mindset, there are some concrete steps that you can take to ensure you are bringing this valuable mentality to every project. In any consulting situation :

  1. Always consider all relevant information and use it to develop a big-picture perspective.
  2. Anticipate the short and long-term consequences of actions – see beyond the immediacy of your assignment to the ultimate goals of your client.
  3. Approach complex tasks or problems by breaking them down into their component parts and considering each part in detail – asking yourself what the practical implications of each component are, and what your various courses of action may need to be in order to address them.
  4. Apply yourself; the rewards are unfailing.

I’ve oriented my four pillars around career growth because I believe that the opportunity for terrific career growth is what differentiates consulting from the careers of other IT professionals. In order to reap all of the benefits that IT consulting has to offer, it’s important that you not only consider these four pillars when approaching every opportunity, but that you also strive to grow and develop your skill sets off the clock. Focus on learning new skills that may be required to break ground on a next career path, keep up to date on the latest tech trends and developments in your targeted professional area, get to know the business areas where you may receive assignments, and leverage your resources by asking others for feedback on the effectiveness of your approaches. Remember that when you embrace opportunities for developing skills with new technology, processes, and methodology, you’ll get to grow by relying on your “four pillars” – and ultimately set the course for your own career advancement.

To attend our next Tech on Tap:RSVP to Tech on Tap

About the author:

Bruce Krupnick is a Senior Project Manager with past experience as a programmer analyst, QA analyst, BA, and project lead. He received an MBA from St. Thomas and spent the last 21 years consulting in Healthcare, Government and Financial services on various platforms with different types of teams in diverse roles such as Development Lead, Technical PM, and some dabbling in program management. He particularly excels in the areas of requirements, risk, and change management. In his free time he enjoys baseball, playing corporate gigs with his band, and spending time with his wife, four kids, and two grandchildren. 

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Tech Gifts To Help You Celebrate Mom

Whether you’re shopping for a mom, grandmother, spouse, friend, or anyone else whom you’d like to recognize on May 8th, the gift of a thoughtful tech gadget will help you show your love in a unique and trendy way. From user-friendly trinkets designed to assist those less-proficient with tech, to fashionable accessories that add flare to favorite devices, these 5 ideas are all you’ll need to start and end your 2016 Mother’s Day search.

 

Misfit Swarovski Bracelet For The Wearables-Lover: Misfit Swarovski Activity Tracker

Ever heard your mom bemoan the style of her fitness tracker? While this isn’t an important detail for some, many trend-setters struggle with the plastic appearance of most fitness trackers, feeling that they don’t coincide with a professional or stylish wardrobe. Swarovski has set out to change that, teaming up with the reputable Misfit tracker to create a brand new look. The jewelry comes in a variety of styles and materials, and boasts a 6-month battery life (no more charging!).

 

For The Avid Reader: Kindle E-ReaderNew Kindle Oasis

With the new Kindle Oasis hot and fresh on the market, you may wonder at our recommendation of a Kindle E-Reader in general. Though the Oasis is by far the most luxury of your e-reading options, it also comes at a hefty price, and some of the enhanced features may go unnoticed by your loved-one. Before snagging the newest style compare the features of all 4 Kindle readers currently available. The affordability and usability of the Paperwhite, and the sensory enhancements of the Voyage keep these technologies current despite the release of newer models.

 

For The Zen-Seeker: Breville One-Touch Tea MakerBreville One-Touch Tea Maker

The perfect cup of tea comes at a steep (wink) price, but true tea-drinking aficionados will appreciate this unique device (which is also backed by Teavana). With built-in knowledge of the perfect water temperatures, brewing time, and development process required for black, green, white, and oolong teas, the user can enjoy her cup without any hassle, stress, or guesswork.

 

 

For the Smart Home-Maker: Flic Wireless Smart ButtonFlic Wireless Smart Button

Not only can Flic take pictures, post to your Facebook wall, dim or turn off/on your household lights and start your Spotify playlist, but it can also serve as a speed dial to help you call loved ones, and an emergency alarm, among other uses. The extremely programmable device is small, portable, wireless, and can attach or reattach to any surface. Though you can easily customize your usage preferences using the Android or iOS mobile app, be advised that less tech-proficient mothers or grandmothers may need your help with the set-up – not a bad price to pay for such an affordable and multi-purposed gadget!

 

Mobile Lens Kit

For The Photographer: Mobile Lens Kit

Whether your mom is a photo-snapping pro or a picture taking newbie, the mobile lens kit can help take her albums to the next level. Easy to clip-on fish eye, wide angle, and macro lenses allow her to enhance and adjust her images’ quality without having to be an app-expert or selfie-pro. But be warned: you may be tempted to “borrow” mom’s gift once or twice.

 

 

You’ve got plenty of time left to grab the mother-figure in your life a fun tech gadget to celebrate her before Mother’s Day. You’re sure to impress with a gift that’s thoughtful, unique, and tells mom shes trendy and up-to-date with the latest tech has to offer.

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Removing The Tech Gender Gap: We Need Women Techies

Removing The Tech Gender Gap We Need Women TechiesThat a gender gap exists in tech is an undeniable fact, though not a new revelation. Groups such as Girls Who Code and Women Who Code have made efforts to draw awareness to this issue, sharing research proving the number of women graduating from college with computer science degrees has dropped from 37 percent in 1984 to 18 percent today, along with other startling findings.

But an underlying question, the big “so what?” remains largely unanswered. As a result, many in tech are left wondering whether the hot-button issue has received more hype than it is worth.

Before we dive into the “so what”, there is some good news for Minnesota technologists and businesses:

  • On a recent list of Best Cities For Women in the Workforce 2016, Rochester, Minneapolis, and St. Paul took the top 3 spots respectively: “In each city, women’s median earnings are more than 90% of men’s, unemployment is lower than the national average, and the cost of living is also lower than other places.”
  • Both Minneapolis and St. Paul graced Smart Asset’s list of Top 15 Cities for Women in Tech based on the percent of women filling tech roles, three year tech employment growth, and pay equity.

Still, the thriving Silicon Prairie must continue to evaluate the efforts being made to increase the number of women in tech. To create a better understanding of the ways tech gender gap-issues feed one another, why the disparity persists, how you can instill change, and most importantly, why you should want to, we’ve pulled out and analyzed two important “so whats” behind the women in tech movement. By better understanding the benefits of increasing the amount of tech women in the workplace we can empower the tech industry to change, grow, and thrive.

The Benefits of More Tech Women In The Workplace

Women Strengthen Tech Teams and Increase Productivity:

The bottom line: whether within the tech industry or outside of it, gender-diverse teams are statistically more successful than teams where one gender is predominant. And this is true for all teams – including those at the executive level. In one survey, 62 percent of respondents found women uniquely contributed to a board room compared to their male colleagues, citing empathy and intuition as key components to women in leadership.

The National Center for Women and Information Technology shares findings from many further studies on the benefits of diverse business teams, indicating that teams with more equal gender distribution outperform other companies in leadership, direction, accountability, capability and confidence, and exhibited higher collective intelligence.

The same report cited that tech teams with greater gender diversity experienced “superior adherence to project schedules, lower project costs, [and] higher employee performance ratings.” In a study of 1,400 team members from 100 teams, it was found that gender balanced teams were more experimental and creative, and were more likely to share knowledge and complete tasks. As these studies show, on a gender balanced team women and men each bring unique skills to the table that help individuals and the team perform better.

Women Know How to Attract More Users:

Not only does having gender-balanced tech teams help a company’s bottom line by increasing those teams’ productivity, but by adding diversity to the minds innovating tech, companies reap the added benefits of producing more diverse tech and catering more to women purchasers and users. The convergence of technology and marketing has meant that the user experience, whether it is of software services, a mobile app, or a website, is of the utmost importance.

Marketers have long been aware of the importance of selling to women, as up to 85% of all purchasing decisions are impacted by women’s choices. As it relates to tech specifically, women are in fact largely the end users, leading technology adopters, and purchasers of tech. As tech and marketing simultaneously permeate through other areas of business, disproportionate gender monopolization between those creating products and those actually purchasing and using them means a hit to the bottom line. This is why both men and women’s skill sets are essential for achieving technology-driven business success.

Admittedly, not all tech is or should be targeted at women. But women also shouldn’t be forgotten. Generally speaking, women have different ideals when it comes to design aesthetics and product usability. While a well-trained and experienced male could indeed give insight into the design choices that may or may not attract or repel women users, who better to address the differences than women themselves?

So Why Do You Want More Women on Your Tech Team?

  • Diversifying your team means that variant perspectives and problem solving strategies will likely be employed and as a result you can complete your projects on time and under budget.
  • On a gender diverse team, every member performs at a higher rate so both the individual contributors and the department itself benefit, leading to job satisfaction and company success.
  • Women bring empathy and intuition to leadership as well as the ability to handle tasks that require social sensitivity well.
  • Women think like women. They directly impact the bottom line by helping teams create better products or services that appeal to female end users.

The real question is: why wouldn’t you want more women on your tech team?

5 Ways to Ensure Women in Tech Aren’t Isolated

We know that wanting women isn’t really the issue. There’s a shortage of women in technology to begin with, and studies show that women leave the technology industry at a higher rate than men.  Not only have most tech teams been unable to achieve gender equity, but many have even recently experienced decreases in diversity.

The national average of women working in STEM falls at 27% (almost 10% less than it was in the 90s), and many of the most popular tech fields remain lower, with software developers coming in at only 20% women, and engineers boasting only a 13% female composition. This deficit extends to the number of women on tech company boards as well, which has recently grown, but still achieves only 18%. There are several things you can do to make sure women in technology don’t feel isolated and stay in the field for the long haul.

1. Create a Hiring Plan for Technical and Non-Technical Roles:

  • One of the fastest ways that execs can encourage more women in tech to join their teams is by hiring more qualified women in non-technical roles. Increasing the number of women on teams such as marketing, HR, finance, or less-technical roles within your tech team, creates a more welcoming environment for future women looking to join your company in tech roles.
  • Simultaneously, work to increase the number of women in tech-specific roles by creating a plan with timelines and goals for diverse hiring improvement.
  • Increase the likelihood that women will apply to your open positions by including fewer criteria on your job descriptions. Research has shown that women won’t apply to positions unless they feel they are 100% qualified, while men are confident in their abilities when meeting only 60% of a list of qualifications.
  • You may also want to identify women with potential who have the ability to learn quickly within your current company. If they have an interest in moving into a tech career the benefits of having more women on your team could outweigh any time loss involved with training them.

2. Whether You’re a Woman or Man, Understand Your Own Biases: 

Without getting into the larger discussion of societal gender bias as a whole (which some believe to be the true culprit of a gender parity-gap in tech), men and women can still fight for gender parity by gaining and spreading awareness about the ways their own biases perpetuate female exclusion. There are many tools and online tests available that can help to train you to be more aware of your potential areas of bias (and provide statistical evidence proving you’re not alone in these). Though women are 45% more likely than their male peers to leave STEM industries, by understanding our own biases, we actively help to decrease that number.

3. Fight Against Cultural Norms:

Encourage women to be more vocal about their personal and professional accomplishments. Many women desire to be humble and not boast their achievements, but this cultural expectation can leave women feeling at a disadvantage to their male counterparts, who generally exhibit more confidence when showcasing their success. If you’re a woman, push back against this norm by striving to grow more comfortable talking about your professional achievements. Practice your elevator pitches, and regularly self-evaluate by sending emails to yourself detailing your major accomplishments from the week, as well as tracking your quarterly/yearly goals. Not only will practicing these behaviors help women hold themselves accountable, but it will also help them gain confidence by causing them to frequently acknowledge successes.

4. Foster Peer Support and Mentorship Programs:

LinkedIn’s Erica Lockheimer recognized her own potential to make a large impact on attracting diversity at her company. Her efforts evolved into a Women in Technology executive team that has increased the number of females in technical roles at LinkedIn. Like Lockheimer, you have the potential to make a difference in your office. Form a proposal to begin your company’s own WIT team, or volunteer to get on board with current initiatives. Consider serving women within your company or potential recruits as a mentor, or help to foster peer support in other ways like AmEX has, by instigating a network forum for women. As long as you’re willing to be the one to contribute to or trail-blaze these initiatives, execs will likely support your endeavors.

5. Beware the ‘Brogrammer’ Vibe…But Don’t Make Assumptions:

Though the boy genius prototype (a la Mark Zuckerberg) is a stereotype mostly stemming from Silicon Valley, it’s important for all hiring managers and tech workers to stay alert against culturally isolating female techies, and instead promote a workplace culture that is inviting toward women. Women aren’t just looking for a job – they’re looking for an opportunity that’s compatible with their lifestyle. Don’t feel the need to over-compensate or gender-stereotype the ways you interact with your female coworkers or the perks you offer as a company in order to attract women. But do consider what women might value that differs from their male counterparts and make efforts to create a vibe that appeals to all.

 

Though the existence of the tech gender gap is widely known, undisputed, and acknowledged as a problem, we still have a long way to go before the tech industry can achieve gender diversity. By getting informed and equipping ourselves with tips and tools to instigate change, we are all able to become fighters for the cause. While the professional and economic benefits to increasing the number of women working as tech pros are clear, this mission is one that can have a major impact on you as an individual as well. Because whether you yourself are a woman techie, you want to empower a loved one or daughter to equip herself with tech skills, or you understand the benefits of having women on your tech team for your own success, your active involvement in this area is bound to lead to at least one success story, which we hope in turn, will lead to many more.

For more about the ways you can help bridge the tech gender gap, check out the second blog in this series:

Know a female techie who’s looking for a great new opportunity? Contact Us today or Send Us Your Referrals

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