– Welcome to ROAR: Deep Dive – a podcast produced by the Middlebury Institute’s Translation and Localization Management program, bringing together global voices from the localization industry. I’m your host for this episode, Mateusz Sasinowski. There are many exciting things coming to mind when people think of localization – working on subtitling a movie or TV series before its official release, internationalizing new flashy software for a big international company, and navigating the complex reality of managing people of different cultural backgrounds based in different countries and time-zones. Not much spotlight is given to the nitty-gritty work that allows the whole industry to operate, that is sales and accounting.
Even though some people might have a knee-jerk reaction of trying to stay away from anything that involves math and ROI, the reality of any business, localization including, is that it runs on money, and for money. Also, there’s a lot of space for creativity and ingenious solutions in sales – and today we have the pleasure of talking to Jon Ritzdorf, a veteran of the l10n industry, who has held a job title of Solutions Architect for more than a decade now, currently working for RWS Moravia. So what does designing solutions for the language industry entail? What’s the best way to balance the client’s interests with your team’s ones? Will machines take over salespeople? Let’s dive in and find out.
– Mateusz (M): Hey, Jon, thank you for agreeing to be our guest for the next episode of a podcast, podcast that we hope to bring more voices and perspectives that are somewhat underrepresented in the discourse about localization industry in general. We would like to talk to you specifically because you are an experienced solutions architect, and we think that’s a super interesting position to be in. And you definitely have a lot to say about localization in general. And before we get into details, could you give us your elevator pitch?
– Jon (J): Okay, so I am a senior Solutions Architect with RWS Moravia. I have been in the industry for about 20 years now. I started off first in Chinese translation, and actually got my undergraduate degree in Chinese language and literature, and then eventually came on here MIIS where I got my Master’s degree in Chinese translation at the time back then they didn’t have a localization program here. So that’s kind How I started out and where I am today is basically doing solutions architecture work. I’ve been doing that for now a little bit over a little over 14 years. I love the position. I love what I do, I avoid ending up in management on purpose because I really enjoy this particular area. I find it really fascinating. And I continue to find my passion in the industry overall by teaching about what we do and how we do it and making sure that they can build their own careers in the industry.
– M: Nice. So one thing you mentioned, which is very interesting, is that is your transition from more like a linguistic background into localization industry per se, which seems to be a case for many, many people involved. Could you talk more about how your transition went? And do you have any ideas or any suggestions for you know, students and professionals involved in more language-focused careers, and how could they enter the localization industry?
– J: Sure. So for me personally, I ended up here like many people of my time, almost by accident. I thought for years and years that all I wanted to do is study Chinese. And I had come to the Middlebury Institute with the idea that I wanted to be a Chinese legal interpreter. That was what I came with. That was my original idea. I wanted to be a legal interpreter. And within my first semester of interpretation classes, I realized I was a complete failure of interpretation. I was not able to split attention and I have always been the type of person who gets hyper focused on one thing and cannot break free from what I’m doing. Can’t let go. So it was pointed out to me very rapidly that I probably didn’t want to go down the interpretation path. And so I started to work towards the translation degree here. But back then we’re talking 2000, literally 2000. It was the.com boom, still going on. We were actually, MIIS was bringing in a number of people who were in this field that was starting to become bit more prominent, which was localization. We had classes back then just basic CAT tools. We had classes in terminology management. These were all optional courses that you could take on top of your translation degree. And then we also had a course in software localization with a visiting adjunct who worked at what was the biggest most prominent language service provider at the time, E-translate. They were a really big deal back then. But like many other companies during the.com bust, they went under and yeah, so they started bringing in those teachers and I just became interested in that stuff. I just had kind of I kind of lost my interest with the language side of it and kind of found more interest in the kind of combination of where technical and business and the language started to intersect and and I had found my place with it. As for advice for people who are linguists right now, might be thinking about the industry, I think it behooves them to consider what their objectives are. I think a lot of people especially a lot of people here who come to the Institute, some people have more of a kind of say this in the in the in the way that’s most politically correct as possible. They have more of the, they want to volunteer, they want to help the world, they want to contribute to ending global poverty, which is all great. I mean, don’t get me wrong, that’s great. I mean, that’s really important that we need to have people doing that. But if you are going to go with a language path and transition, I think you need to figure out whether you want to get more on the business side of the train or whether you want to get more on the social responsibility side of the train. And from there, if you decide you do you are interested in more of the business side, localization is probably more of a path that would be attractive to you. In terms of transitioning in, I would say that you don’t necessarily have to, you know, get a Master’s degree in localization to get into the industry that a lot of people fall into it. It just depends on I think the importance of the aster’s degree here, or anybody who’s considering it is to get a foundation and lay down a foundation of knowledge that makes it so you don’t have to go through all the road bumps and all of the struggles that many beginners in the industry have to go through, because they’ll lay down a foundation here we’ll you’ll learn a lot about the various techniques, technologies, processes, etc, that we use in the industry and how those, how those can benefit you in terms of building out a localization program either on the client side or the vendor side.
– M: Speaking of speed bumps and laying the foundation of the industry, how do you think the industry itself has changed in the last 20 years? Is it much different now than it used to be? Is it easier or the processes are vastly different?
– J: I think I would say that in a lot of ways the challenges have never changed. The challenges always remain the same. In fact, in some ways, that’s what’s kind of frustrating about the industry is that the challenges don’t seem to change the ways in which we solve those challenges have changed over time somewhat. But the actual core challenges haven’t. So it’s kind of a little bit of both the industry has had, I’d say some major transformations, I have a whole theory about this, which I don’t want to spend too much time on. But basically, I feel like we’ve gone through three waves of progress in the localization industry. And we’re hitting our fourth wave right now. And each one had kind of its little thing that it brought along, like there was little points where you could kind of indicate like this was the revolutionary point in our industry, starting off with like wave one with CAT tools, wave two, where we started to get into more automation and workflows, wave three, where we finally had viable machine translation, and now we’re moving into kind of a wave four which is who knows, who knows where we’re calling? I don’t want to predict. I mean, there’s ideas about where we could be going. I actually honestly think everything’s going to start to just smash together into one process. One idea. But overall for students, I think from a student perspective, have things gotten easier? Well, I can say the localization industry is much more professionalized than it was in wave one and wave two. I think wave three, it started to get professionalized. And now it’s definitely a professionalized career path and a professionalized industry. I think in that way, it’s easier because you can actually find materials online, you can find materials, you know, all around you. I mean, mostly online these days. But back when, you know, a lot of us started in the industry, there was literally nothing and we just had to learn trial by fire. There was no past there was nobody to learn from everybody was just kind of figuring it out. We we ran into a lot of roadblocks and, you know, bashed our head into the wall a lot in the earlier days. There were also a lot more technological roadblocks to getting things done. Nobody even cared or thought ever about any other markets. So even the underlying foundations from a technical perspective for simple things like just programming, you know, a little app or well back then programming a full like a, you know, software application for the desktop, there just wasn’t even a technical foundation for it. So in a localization team would actually have to work with a programming team to actually build an entire framework because the framework didn’t even exist. So they’d have to build an entire framework just to make things work. So it was a much more intense job. We also had the days before Unicode that I survived through. No student wouldn’t even think about it. I was talking with Max Troyer about this as well like you know, we don’t even talk about some of the old stuff and crazy things we had to go through and some of the hoops we had to jump through with students because it’s it’s pointless now, there’s just there’s challenges just don’t exist. So the challenges now, I mean, you know, of course, I’m going to sound like, you know, old grumpy old guy was like, Ah, you know, back in the old days, everything was so hard. And now you guys have it’s so easy. I don’t want to quite say that I think the difference is is similar to what we’re dealing with right now. You know, like consumption of information. It’s very hard. Like right now there’s so much information, it’s hard to filter it out, rather than, or, you know, lack of information, which is what we had before. I think now, it’s the same thing with localization. It’s like, we’ve got so much going on in localization. It’s hard to filter out what’s not important to you and focus in on what is important to you. That’s the challenge now. You know, you hear this person says they have this revolutionary technology, and this person says they do this, and this person says they do that. Oh, we got in context over here. Oh, yeah, we do MT integration over here. Oh, yeah. You should use MT. Oh, no, you shouldn’t use MT. Oh, but you know, there’s so there’s so many conversations going on. It’s hard to filter out what’s right for your particular pathway. And I think in a way not to link it back to solutions architecture, I think in a way that’s why the solutions architect’s role has become more and more important over the years, because I’d say in the older days, if you had a problem, there was like only one or two ways to solve it. So any, any engineer or any project manager could say, “Oh yeah, if it’s this, it’s that.” Now it’s become, for any one problem, there’s two dozen possible solutions. Out of those two dozen possible solutions, only three are viable. And out of those three that are viable, only one of them really will potentially be implementable and solve the problem at the end of the day. And that’s where the solutions architect comes in, they try to juggle all that kind of stuff and figure out what’s right.
– M: Which makes one excellent segue into the second part, which is about designing solutions. It’s still a somewhat maybe not confusing but a term that many people are not familiar with. So you also have worn many hats like, you are a senior solution architect, but you’re also an MT trainer and also to quote from the LinkedIn, Machine Translation SWAT unit leader.
– J: Yeah, I was the SWAT unit leader for a while. Yeah.
– M: Great. So could you elaborate on, let’s start with the daily responsibilities as a solution architect. How does a typical workday look like?
– J: Look like? A solutions architect, first of all, solutions architect’s job, I like to simplify it this way. This is my, my elevator pitch for a solution architect. A Solutions Architect is just like any other architect. It’s the same idea. As like an architect. if you were to go and say, “Okay, I want to build a house.” You walk into an architecture studio and you say, “I really want to build a home.” and they say, “Well, what do you want? Do you want it to be in a style like Craftsman style? Do you want it to be in a Victorian style? Do you want to be in a modern style? Do you want it like an Ikea style?” So they’ll kind of give you some idea. “Oh, yeah, I kind of want it this way.” And then then you’ll ask like, “Well, do you need, you know, which direction to the windows need to be? How many rooms? How many bathrooms? How many this? How many that?” So they spent a lot of time diagnosing, like, what is the right fit for what you’re looking for? So that’s what they started with. And then ultimately, from that conversation, they draft out a blueprint, right? A blueprint of what they think you mean, right? You have not drawn it for them. Maybe you’ve done a few sketches or something, but you haven’t fully drafted it out. And so they try to you try to guess based on what their preferences are, what their interests are, what they want, and you lay out a blueprint, you push that blueprint over and you say, “Is this what you’re looking for?” And they say, “Yeah, I like this part. But I don’t like that part. I want this porch over here. I want the roof to be sloped more of an angle? Oh, I’d really like a second story right there.” So they do this and they kind of give you some ideas. And then you go back and you redraft it again and then you hand it back over and say is this what you’re looking for? And they say, “Yeah, you know what, that’s not a bad idea. I think this is more or less what I’m looking for maybe just a tiny tweak here and tiny tweak here.” It’s exactly the same as solutions architecture. You’re walking into a situation with people who have often times a fairly undefined localization program, and they’re looking for ideas. And your job is to, based on your experience, right? And most solutions architects I’ve met, you know, have at least a minimum five to seven years experience doing this kind of work based on your experience, you think about, “Hey, you know what? This is kind of what I think they’re looking for based on other things I built.” You draft it out, you hand it over to them, you say, this is what it sounds like, this is what you’re saying “Your challenges are here are some options in terms of how to, you know, overcome those challenges. Here are some technologies, here are some processes that we could implement. Let us know if this is kind of what you’re looking for.” And then, they come back when they say yes or no, and eventually we get to a blueprint, finalize that blueprint. We get them to sign off on that blueprint, and then we move forward. So it’s very much like any other type of architecture job in that way. You’re starting off with big ideas and you’re eventually getting it down to something that’s concrete and can be implemented. I think another important point for solutions architecture is a Solutions Architect job to not only blueprint it at the early stages when we’re talking with potential customers, but to also bring that blueprint to the people who are going to actually build it. Just like an architect. Architects do show up in real life on site on building sites, and help the construction team understand how to build what they’ve designed, right? And give them tips and pointers and details. Same thing. We bring these ideas to the operations team. We help them implement the solution at the at the beginning. We stay throughout the on, what we call, the onboarding process. We stay there and help them onboard the customer. Set up the processes and then ultimately, once it’s getting a good frame to it, it’s looking pretty good. It’s, you know, mostly laid out. We’re able to walk out and move on to the next opportunity and begin working on the next blueprint.
– M: What would be your most elegant or complicated solution blueprint you have designed?
– J: I think the most complex one, and I try to give it to my students in one of my courses in my sales and solutions course is one where we had no idea what we were getting into when we walked in. And they told us that they had to have immediate real time, real time alerts for major disasters that could happen anywhere on the planet. It was a tool that it would send out notifications to people in a certain geographic area. And if something was going on in that geographic area, whether it was a bomb going off, whether it was hostages were taken, whether it was an earthquake in that location. Basically, if you were on the ground in a volatile location or a place where there was potential volatility, it would give you a warning immediately to your phone no matter where you were in that geographic area. Now they needed that to be localized. So they needed it to be transmitted and to the person’s hands literally as soon as it was created in a language but here’s the challenge. No MT. They couldn’t take the risk of MT because the risk of MT, if it said for example, “You need to run now, right, right now. You need to get out of this place. A bomb just went off. There are people running into the into your hotel and they’re taking hostages, like you need to get the hell out right now.” If it said something like that, they could not risk there being any mistakes because one mistake could end up with life loss. So that was one of the trickiest ones to try to solve. And not only that the program had to run. So that’s just the beginning. Right? This program had to be able to run 24/7/365 so you had to have it on ongoing. No MT allowed. Non stop. So every person involved in it would have to be on call as if it were being an on call nurse or an on call emergency worker, right? You’re an on call emergency worker. Every day, every moment you could be called in for this kind of stuff. So that was one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to create because not only was just solving the problem of getting the content in language in other languages from English and pivoting out tricky, there also was the challenge of time-zones. How do you get people to stay on call like that at all times? How do we transmit the message without mistake, right? Think about that. Even human translators are gonna make mistakes, right? Especially they’re under pressure. Let’s say it’s a really, I mean, I can imagine I’m a translator, and I get this thing. And I’m reading it and I’m like, “Oh, my God, people are gonna die if I cannot, like get this out in five in less than five minutes.” Right? So imagine just the stress and the pressure of the person who’s who has to do this and how they’d have to not make mistakes and stuff. So all of this created quite a complex solution. I remember it being drafted out. I drafted out a new proposal. I think it was over 10 pages long. Ultimately, the customer decided to go with an old army buddy of his. I did not know that, that there was a deeper relationship behind the scenes. So they went with a little local LSP, who offered to do it for them. But, but it was certainly was one of the most, I’d say one of my proudest moments that I was actually able to take all this, process it and turn it into something. And actually, like I said, over the years, there has been a few times when I’ve been able to give this scenario to students and I love some of the ideas they come up with, they’ve come up with ideas I never thought of. One of the best ideas I remember from one year. One of them said, “Well, rather than just have them like, try to type it out, you know what maybe just do like when they receive it, just have them do like maybe try doing a voice to text or something like that something to speed up that transition time. Like they just look at it and voice to text it. Other ideas where they came from students were things like instead of doing the whole alert, the alerts could be 200 words long or something, have them do a summary of the alert for just the critical points, release that then within another, let’s say 30 minutes, release the whole thing. So at least people get the immediate like, run now, like they get that information right now, like leave your building right now. There’s a serious event going on, right? Get out, right, they get that out within seconds, or within minutes. And then maybe 10 minutes later, you get the full report. Anyway, so that would be one of the most complex ones I ever dealt with. It was a challenge.
– M: A challenge, but sounds very exciting and very, very interesting.
– J: It was really fun. It was really fun to do. I was really disappointed that they didn’t want to go with us in the end, although in a way I probably was relieved too because I don’t know, trying to bring that to the operations team and get them to buy into it and get everybody on board. I mean, how are we going to run it 24/7/365. It’s going to be, it’s going to be tricky, but we were willing to do it. There was a willingness within the company to do it. And we had an idea about how we were going to be able to implement it.
– M: So it seems like in your position, you have to navigate between both client and your team’s different interests, right?
– J: Yes.
– M: You represent your client’s, their grand scheme but you also have to, you know, fit it within whatever your business can provide. How is this going back and forth between these two different vested interests? How is it for you? How do you do it?
– J: It’s always a balancing act. I have a rule in solutions architecture. I think I have a lot of little minor rules that I try to follow, little mantras for myself. So one of mine is, if both sides are unhappy with me, I’m doing my job right. If the client, sales and operations are all happy with me, then I’m doing my job right. If the client, sales and operations are all unhappy with me, I’m doing my job right. Probably not ideally. But I’m at least everybody’s in pain. You know, you’re doing something wrong in solutions architecture is when there’s an imbalance. If for example, client’s happy, sales as this as the most common situation, client’s happy, sales is happy in the sales side on the language service provider side is happy, and the operations team is unhappy. That is a situation where we know there’s an imbalance and that means I have not done my job right. So my goal is to try to balance everybody’s interest and try to reach a good kind of not quite a compromise, but try to reach a place where everybody is in harmony, ideally. There have been also situations though, where the opposite can happen. The client’s happy with what we’ve proposed. The sales is not happy and operations is happy, but operations is out of alignment with what the client’s happiness is like their idea of happy is not quite in alignment with what the client’s idea of happy is and that’s why the salespeople are upset. So anyways, there’s like, as soon as you see imbalance, that’s when you know something’s wrong and in solutions architecture, everybody should be on the same page. Everybody should be in alignment. We all should be in agreement that this is a good idea and it is possible to be done and that it’s being done for a fair price when we get down to that issue, you know, on both the client side and within the operations teams across the board.
– M: Speaking of power, so this equation, your job entails a lot of finance and accounting, math, which is sometimes somewhat intimidating for many students coming from a linguistic or liberal arts background. However, there’s a thing that not many people say that that kind of background, linguistic or not, brings certain assets into doing a job related to finance and accounting. Do you have any comment on that?
– J: My main comment on that is I came into this without, with extreme hatred of math, extreme hatred of numbers. I always, well, I shouldn’t say always, I very much hated anything related to numbers throughout my life. I remember getting a C in statistics a C minus, no no, not statistic, calculus. I took calculus for fun in college and that was a stupid idea, destroying my GPA with just that one course. And I decided I would never touch math again. But never say never is my rule for students never say never. As time went on, I started being asked to do more and more things related to numbers. At first, I was very resistant. At first, I would say things. And I know I posted on LinkedIn about this. And I think it’s very true. I, at first I was saying things like, “Oh, that’s not my job. I don’t do that.” And I think that’s my number one thing that I would advise any student about, just do it. Just do it because you never know. What happened was, I would say it was not my job and they say “Tough luck. You’re going to do it anyway.” And I’d say, “Geez.” So then, they give me, this is back when I was a localization engineer. They would give me content to analyze. And they’d say “You need to come up with the numbers. You need to tell us how many hours. You don’t have to put the pricing in, but you just need to tell us how many hours it’s going to take for you to produce this work. I need to know like how much pre- processing and post-processing and whatever other steps you need to do, you need to tell me how many hours you think this is going to take.” And I was very hesitant. I was like, “This sucks. This is not what I signed up for. I didn’t sign up to like, sit here and come up with numbers for the stuff. I want to actually like, do localization engineering work.” So I used to get really frustrated with that. At first, it was forced. And this time and I kind of started to enjoy it a little bit but didn’t want to quite admit it to myself that I kind of enjoyed it. And then as time went on, it got more and more interesting. And then eventually, I really enjoyed doing it. And the next thing that you know, you go from just taking those raw numbers that come out of throughputs to come up with hours. And you start now applying the math to it of like, “Well, here’s our rates, here’s the client’s rates.” And when I got to Moravia, their finance team is very, very much the top of the food chain at Monrovia. And so they were like “No, you need to be calculating internal gross margins on this as well.” And again, when I heard that I was like “Oh, geez, what the hell’s the gross margin, I don’t even know what the hell he did financing. I don’t understand any of this stuff.” So but I had to learn. And then I started doing it. And then I started enjoying it and I kind of enjoyed it. And then it grew out grew more and more and and as time goes on, you start to realize everything you do, no matter whether you’re client side or vendor side is driven by numbers. And if you don’t understand the numbers, you actually have never unlocked the secret code behind what’s going on with localization, the only way to unlock the secret code behind what managers care about what everybody’s looking at, and what drives decisions. Because when you’re in operations, you sometimes say,” Oh, my God, this is so stupid. Why are we doing this? This is idiotic. Why would they do this? Why would they, you know, let’s go from the worst things like why would they lay this person off? Why would they accept this work? Why would they not accept that work?” Right? You get frustrated, but you’re not understanding why because you’re not taking the time to look at it from the numbers’ perspective. And once you see the numbers, suddenly it starts to make sense. It starts to become crystal clear for you like, if you put yourself in that same situation, would you have made the same decision? And I’d say nine times out of 10? The answer is, yes, you would have made the same decision. If you were actually looking at the numbers rather than being driven by pure emotion. The numbers are kind of the secret code behind the scenes throughout our industry or even larger picture throughout the whole economy, right? You start to see how that all links now. It’s not just LSPs. Every business runs like that. And once you start to see every business runs like that, then suddenly understand, that’s how the whole economy is driven by these numbers. And once you understand how those numbers work, and you see like the situation we’re dealing with right now, you know, the, the Dow going down everything because of the whole virus panic, you know, you start to really understand the inner workings of really the whole business and economic perspective behind the scenes. So I strongly encourage people to not be afraid of the numbers. Embrace the numbers. If you are in a role that has numbers in it, just don’t be like me. Don’t say it’s not your job and walk away. Just embrace it. Accept it. You don’t have to like it. But you might find one day you do like it and you might find one data that actually becomes useful to you in even your own personal finances in your personal life. I’ve made a lot of a lot better financial decisions from about age 35 to currently than (those that) I’ve ever made in my 20s.
– M: So it seems like they could run as an ad for localization, “Get into localization. In about five months, improve your own (budget).
– J: It almost is. It’s almost like an infomercial. “Get into localization and improve your finances. Buy a house. I did it, too. You only need, only need six weeks and you can learn my program.” Yeah, exactly.
– M: I have a different note. We hear many people complaining about a client’s lack of understanding of our business, localization in general about the constant need to evangelize, convince, teach customers, clients on what kind of services they can expect. Do you think it’s changing? Our clients are more equipped with a better understanding of what localization can do and cannot?
– J: This is where I get down to something. I think I’ve said before, that I think localization as an industry has matured in some areas and hasn’t in others. Let’s look at the United States. If we look in the United States, obviously, you know, a lot of stuff talk you hear is related to Silicon Valley. But to me, Silicon Valley is a bubble. The Silicon Valley bubble certainly knows localization by now. It’s a well-known, well-established role and position. People have a general understanding of what it does within this area. But as soon as you move out of there, and let’s go to Michigan, right? It is still where it’s been since when I first started in the industry. You go to any random startup that pops up in Chicago, for example. And you’re starting from scratch. Nobody’s ever done this before. They know kind of they want to go international, but they don’t really even know what to call it. I encourage students, when they look for jobs outside of Silicon Valley never use the word localization. There’s lots of people out there who are posting localization jobs, they just don’t call it that, because it’s a professionalized industry in the Silicon Valley may be down in LA, right? In Seattle, definitely as well. But as soon as you start moving out of the West, and you start going east, it’s not so professionalized. It’s becoming more professionalized in areas like New York City, Boston, some of the tech areas out there. But as soon as you kind of move out of that, you start to see a lot less knowledge about the area. It’s pretty much where it’s been since the beginning, which is it’s just not professionalized role and nobody really knows what to do with it. People might know they need somebody to help them out. But they don’t quite know what your roles and responsibilities are. They, they will post it as something like translation coordinator, that’s a common position I’ll see listed in the early days for I always use the example in the early days of indeed, indeed .com. They were posting positions for international operations analyst. It’s essentially a localization job. But for a particular country, a country manager level. You know, these are all localization positions or localization related positions, they just aren’t called that. So like I said, outside of this bubble, where things are very different. So my answer to that, in short, is yes, in some ways, and no in other ways. It depends on where you are regionally. I would love to tell you if I had a better lay of the land for Europe but I since I’m so focused on the United States, in most of my work, I would hate to speak for Europe. I don’t know if it’s become more professionalized there over time, or if it’s kind of where it was back when I had a few European customers.
– M: Another thing to note is, this localization and internationalization is supposed, supposed to be going global making connections worldwide. But do you think that there’s actually in terms of our business industry, is there much cooperation happening between the US and the rest of the world, be Europe or China, or any other part?
– J: In cooperation in terms of?
– M: Industry wise, the exchange of ideas, companies that are learning from different places, introducing methods of like work in China into US or…
– J: So Internationally?
– M: Uh-hm.
– J: I think one of the good things is that our events, where are the events in the localization industry used to be very sparse. Not only sparsely attended in the early days, but also kind of very, very localized in a single area. We’re still finally starting to expand, so for example, you know, I think it was GALA. Was it GALA or LocWorld? I can’t remember. But who had, like, the first event ever in Southeast Asia, right? So it’s starting to I think the exchange of ideas is finally starting to happen on a global level. It’s taken a long time to get there. This is like a, it’s like a wave, one wave, wave two. This is a wave three kind of phenomenon, where we’re finally starting to see, I’d say, international cooperation around ideas and techniques and processes and, and peculiarities about different industries and different roles. So for example, this was fascinating to me, it just got cancelled. It got cancelled recently, but in Seoul, they were going to be having a conference on multimedia localization in Korea with all the popularity of Korean like, you know, media and pop culture, you know, between K-pop and parasite winning the Academy Award and, and all this other stuff going on, right? They decided to have a specialist media conference in Seoul, Korea, and they were inviting everybody worldwide to come in and join this thing. And it was gonna be focused specifically on on media in Korea, and Asia, and how that is spreading globally. So I think that’s fascinating. These things were never happening before and that to me is kind of just showing that the growth and the expansion of localization as a, as an actual professionalized role on a worldwide scale. So that’s really interesting to me.
– M: Let’s finish up with shifting gears into the subject of automatization. So it seems like the MT like, purely translation aspect is kind of plateaued. And many people are thinking about what would be the next step. And it seems there’s a lot of research and a lot of effort into automating project management side, right? Do you think that’s going to happen? And if so, how will it impact project management, per se, but also sales, designing solutions, and things like that?
– J: I’m gonna go right back to like way something that’s been said for years. People buy from people. Simple as that people buy from people. No, it’ll never be automated away. Not a project manager, not a salesperson. You all deal with it. I deal with it all the time. I, just two days ago, I was looking at possibly rebooking a ticket. I tried to go online, I tried to edit my my ticket and it says, “No, sorry, systems are overloaded. You have to call this number.” I called the number, right? And it runs me through 6 million steps just to then be put on hold for 45 minutes. You know, people want to buy from people. They want people to be engaged. I do not think we’re ever going to reach a point where we are going to automate out people out of the localization industry. A very manager of mine I respect a lot, Erik Vogt, he always tells the story about how people thought when ATM machines were first came out that suddenly it was going to make tellers like tellers all lose their jobs, and there was not gonna be anybody in the bank anymore, like banks were just going to disappear basically. And all we have is ATMs all over the place and that is exactly the opposite of what happened. It increased the professionalization of banking. Tellers were still needed. People still wanted to talk to a person. People, it actually allowed the banks to then be able to sell products and like focus their people more on selling products and services that are a little bit more complex to increase their profits. So I yeah, I don’t believe automation or automation is going to do is help smooth out some of the road bumps, get rid of the the stupid work that nobody wants to do, right? I don’t want to click 13 times to upload a file into a TMS, right? Let’s find a way to automate this through an API. Right? That’s the kind of stuff that’s going to automate. But when it comes to you having a problem or an emergency, when somebody has an emergency, “Oh my god, we’ve got it. The CEO has to, you know, talk to all the employees we had a major incident.” I can guarantee you a project manager on the client side, who has to get that translated into 12 languages is going to pick up the phone and call their project manager and they’re going to want them to answer that phone and take care of that right away. It’s not going to be they’re not going to sit there and wait for an email. They’re not going to sit there and you know maybe if they’ve got an IM, they’ll rely on them to get them instead of call them but but it’s certainly going to be rushing and they’re going to want a human to respond. They’re not going to be okay with an automated bot or putting it into a, you know, an automated system and just trusting to get it back. Humans will buy from humans moving forward no matter what, whether it’s solutions architecture, sales, etc.
– M: That’s a very uplifting idea.
– J: Yeah.
– M: Let’s hope that’s going to be the case.
– J: I am positive. This is where we’re still continuing to go, especially from a sales perspective, too. It is absolutely people do not buy from robots. Would you trust a robot to you know, if you’re purchasing, let’s say, you’re going to spend a lot of money on something. And I was just talking about used cars with my students. So you want to buy a car? Are you going to trust a robot to buy a car? I think I heard that the Carvana thing, the whole thing where you can just like plug in the thing by the car and watch it gives you the car and you can just drive away. I don’t know if I’m right. So don’t, don’t do anybody jump on jump on us if I’m wrong. But as I heard, it’s not going to do well. People still want to buy even cars, which is a painful experience with used car salesmen or new car salesmen, even that, we still want to buy them from people.
– M: Well, thank you, Jon. Thank you for taking time to meet with us.
– J: No problem.
– M: Well, it seems that there is more than meets the eye in the world of solutions architecture. Localization is often an art of seeing language products from a different perspective and finding ways to measure the hard work behind bringing them into the global audience. And without any doubt, the essence of it is the linguistic translation, transcreation, interpretation, and adaptation. However, all these efforts would not be sustainable without a healthy economic ecosystem behind them, and that’s why we have to understand the financial reality behind any linguistic project. The great thing about being in the localization industry is that you learn not only about the cultural and linguistic intricacies of the modern world, but you also get to be exposed to the equally fascinating commercial backbone of it – companies needs are never the same, different products and services require a different approach, and being able to juggle all of that requires the creative talents of people like our guest today. I hope we all learned something new today about the important role of having this perspective while working in the business.
– M: Thanks for listening to this Deep Dive episode of Roar—a MIIS Podcast bringing together global voices from the Localization industry. This episode was made possible by the help of the faculty and students here at the Middlebury Institute and listeners like you, and our intro & outro music is courtesy of musicjunkies.com . For future episodes of the Roar Podcast, be sure to check out our website at sites.miis.edu/roar/.
Also, if you liked what you heard, don’t forget to check out our companion series to Deep Dive, Roar: Speed Bumps. These episodes will focus on particular pain points of the Localization industry, and how loc professionals are finding ways to move the industry forward beyond them.
You can find both series of the Roar podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you in the next episode!