Kaixin: Welcome and thank you for listening to ROAR: Speedbumps. I’m your host today Zhong Kaixin! I am currently graduate students at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. We study both translation and localization management. If you are unfamiliar with ROAR, we are a student led podcast designed to address “speedbumps” or challenges that exist in the localization industry. We speak with industry students, professionals, and educators to learn about these speedbumps and discuss possible solutions.
Today we have with us Marie, the co-founder and COO of BeatBabel; and Burckhardt, co-founder and CEO of BeatBabel. Welcome! Thank you for taking your time and join us to discuss about the speed bumps in localization.
Marie: Thank you!
Burckhardt: Thanks a lot.
Kaixin: Before we dive right into our topic, could you start with telling us a bit about yourself – your experience and your career path in localization?
Marie: I’ll start. As you mentioned, I’m in charge of operations of BeatBabel and I’ve been working in this industry for over 20 years now. I studied translation and linguistics and I realized that wasn’t just enough to deal with all the day-to-day things that we all have to take care of. So I also studied International Business and Management.
I started in the industry as a translator originally, because I came from a teaching environment and that’s what I wanted to do until I realized: well, teaching wasn’t for me. And so I started working as a translator very long ago, and I also decided translating wasn’t for me because I was liking the interaction with people. So I very quickly turned towards project management and because having that kind of background and translation and coordinating and little bit of DTP, I was able to very quickly into project management, which was absolutely great. I enjoyed it and I spent a lot of time on the management side of things from being a project manager and then basically a team manager and department manager and so I kind of gradually became in charge of operations for our company. I am originally from France, so I live in the US and I’ve been here for as long as I’ve been in the industry pretty much. On my free time, I’m also the Vice Chair of GALA – which is an organization that I’m very passionate about, because it does a lot for our industry. In short, I guess that’s a little bit about me.
Kaixin: Thank you, Marie. Just for our audience information, GALA stands for Globalization and Localization Association. So now it’s B’s turn.
B: well I’m I would consider myself a little bit of a “Dinosaur” in this whole industry – not that I want to outdo Marie – but I started with languages, or even before languages, with doing project management, ended up founding my own company in the language industry. We were lucky to be one of the first partners for Microsoft’s localization efforts – that was in the late 80s. I ended up working at Microsoft for a while, and then moved to America and started working for a number of different companies in the USA, until finally Marie and I decided to start our one company – which is BeatBabel – and we’ve been doing this for the last 10 years, and we love every minute of it. Aside from just this brief introduction of what I’ve done, what I like to do is music. And I like linguistics but not in the sense of translation, more like the history of languages and the relationships between languages. That’s sort of a hobby of mine, and it goes back to my childhood dream when I wanted to become an archaeologist. But I was never good at learning Latin, so I just skipped that part. But it doesn’t mean I didn’t like languages, so I ended up doing languages and still liking the linguistic part of it.
Kaixin: That’s wonderful. Well, let’s just jump in to talking about speed bumps. When I say speed bumps in localization or challenges in localization, what comes into your mind?
Marie: There are so many things that can come into mind when you talk about speed bumps. In the day-to-day operations, I think that one of the things I’ve learned over the years is just that there are certain things you learn in school, and then when you’re actually dealing with your work on a daily basis, everything you’ve learned, you kind of have to unlearn, because nothing happens as planned. There’s always caveat, whether resources, vendors, client reviews…There’s such a long list of things that can go wrong, and often, if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. It’s why you have project managers. Because if everything is going according to plan and nothing would happen and nothing would be bad, then people wouldn’t have a job. So that’s why we have project managers to make sure that those speed bumps are kind of straightened out as much as possible and handled as much as possible.
There’s a couple of hot topics that, for as long as I’ve been in the industry, they were still problematic. One is client review, but that’s maybe a topic for another day because I could go on and on about that. I’ve had many conversations about it, and I don’t know what the real solution to streamlining client reviews can be.
Another one that I’ve seen happen in the last few years, a lot of people may disagree, is technology. Technology is evolving very very quickly, and I’ve heard so many people. We’ve had a lot of conversation about artificial intelligence, machine translation, TMS…There are a lot of tools that we have to deal with every day, and a lot of people were saying that: well project managers are obsolete because their tools can do everything; and translators are obsolete because the tools can do everything. I would argue that technology and tools are a great especially today when we’re all working from home because the current situation worldwide. I’m very happy to have a fast computer, remote access to my office and all the tools at my disposal that connect me to our team worldwide. At the same time, I also know that technology is one of them biggest challenge we face because there are nowadays so many tools out there that we need to master.
There are so many tools that sometimes work, and sometimes don’t. I’ve experienced, unfortunately, way too often buggy tools, even from the best providers out there that will tell you that everything is working very nicely. The day-to-day is very different. There are bugs or things that don’t work the way they’re supposed to, cloud servers that go down, there are all sorts of things that can happen. But from a management perspective, it’s becoming very difficult, especially when you’re on the vendor side or the LSP side because you have to be able to adapt to your clients, and every client is different, and every client requires different type of services and uses different tools. Some clients are still using in PDFs out there, when a lot of client are using content management systems, or video tools, marketing tools, design tools. And you can bet that every client is using a different tool. You need to understand the tools and the processes. Sometimes clients have their own teams, so you need tools to adapt to your clients’ requests, to which translation management system they’re using, and that creates an overload of tools that one needs to master. Of course, some tools are compatible, or you can kind of transfer some of your knowledge from one tool to another. But some tools are very clumsy and not user-friendly. They are very difficult to learn and master.
It’s a little bit an issue because when you recruit people, we often need people who speak languages. We often need people who organized. We often need people who have good customer service skills. But now we need people who also master a gazillion tools and that’s very hard to find. So, you have to train a lot. Often in school or even in certain companies, you’ll learn one tool. You might learn Memoq. But going to company that uses SDL. They’re not the same tools when you use them in an expert fashion. In the last few years, this trend of having so many tools are actually having the opposite effect because you need to be doing so much multitasking
Kaixin: You are saying people nowadays are using more and more tools that are not necessarily compatible with each other, and are not necessarily perfect, which create a challenge for the LSP to provide quality services as well as harder for LSP to acquire talents and train them. What do you see as a solution for this problem?
Marie: So the solution for that is, one of the things I believe in, is working with schools and universities allowing students to be able to get first-hand exposure to the day-to-day reality of what it means to work in localization, and knowing certain tools like Smartling, SDL or MemoQ or Plunet in a much deeper sense than what you learn in class. So that’s one thing.
Also, I hope as time goes by, those tools are a little bit more inter-compatible that there’s not so many things that you have to learn on one tool that works differently on the other tool. So hopefully, standards availability and standards compliance will increase to allow cross usage of tools and make it a little bit easier for the end users.
And then on top of it, you have to think about budget. Sometimes you’re working with a content management system and it doesn’t export to a localizable format, so you’re thinking, well there are tools that can plug in an export. But those tools have a cost, and sometimes the client will not be willing to invest in those tools, so you will have to use an old-fashioned way to try to extract content and do it manually. I’ve seen it happen time and again with clients that just don’t have a budget to invest in translation systems. So that adds to the headaches, if you allow me to say so.
Kaixin: That’s very interesting. Would you say that client education is one of the solutions to solve this problem of them not getting enough attention or budget to invest in a good tool?
Marie: I have to comment on client education because we feel very strongly about that. We don’t educate our clients. That’s one thing we don’t do. We are here to serve our client and to provide solutions to our clients, but we are not here to lecture them or anything that may be seen as it. I think that every client has technology challenges and they’re all different. And of course, every client wants to learn. So, you have to be able to provide solutions to them and consult with them on what makes the most sense out of the process. The issue is that often the project manager, or the marketing manager, or the engineering manager, or whoever you deal with at a level, is not the one who makes decision about the tools. Sometimes you know they’re getting their projects from third parties in their companies, and they’re passing them on. So sometimes it’s a bigger conversation. And again, I think for most of the companies, we can work on the TMS of our choice and advise the clients as to what we feel would be the best fit for their projects, and they will allow us to do that. But they don’t have to invest in the tool because we can do that for them. But sometimes some client has already invested a lot of money in a tool that may not be the best solution for their products and so that’s when things get a little bit complicated. Of course, it’s about being a partner of your clients and helping them in any way you can. But you have to be careful how you convey the message and try to work hand-in-hand with your client, and with those speed bumps that will happen in some projects and often very much technology-related, even when you address everything in the front-end. So that happens.
Kaixin: What do you think, B? Do you think this is the biggest challenge that you see in localization, too?
B: For me, what’s important is…I think you can just add it up to one word: curiosity. There are so many things that people will need to face, if they work in this in this industry. And the worst people to end up in this industry would be people who aren’t curious – who don’t want to find out about things, be that a tool, be that a process, be that a language, be that a culture, anything. So for us it is very important, and for me it is important to be around people who are curious and who are willing to do something about it. In that context, our company is a fairly small company, and we don’t have hundreds of people working for us. So you build a team, hopefully, with people who sort of on the same wavelength as you are, and then you develop a working relationship or with them which is not a deep hierarchical structure – it is very flat structure, everybody tries to do as much as possible, tries to understand as much as possible from what needs to be done, and overtime, that you develop a team that is very close and very inter-dependent and relying on one another. My deepest concern is that, if from a small team, one person decides to leave. Because it’s not just somebody who can be replaced easily. It’s a huge gap that suddenly comes up. It’s not the end of the world because often enough this huge gap doesn’t need to be filled with exactly the same kind of person and there’s an opportunity to maybe find somebody else. But it’s one of the challenges and one of the difficult situations for me that the team loses one or two of its team members. I’m really relying on this co-working process where everybody knows as much as possible about what everybody else is doing, but then, the question comes up with what somebody can, like in our position or our company, what can we do about it. It’s very difficult. There is no solution that sort of just comes out of the book and say, OK there is the management trainer that is telling you this is what you need to do. There is no such thing. There is no real solution for it. A practical solution is to grow to a size where if one leaves, the gap doesn’t become so large. But there’s also the point is how big can a team be to be a good team. So I guess we just have to live with the fact that some problems cannot easily be solved, they just need to be acknowledged as a challenge and something to sort of look up arrange yourself around.
Kaixin: This is very interesting for me because B, as far as I know, is the one who is in charge of technology at BeatBabel and yet he has been talking about the operational challenge, while Marie, as the chief operational officer and your biggest concern is technology. It is also very interesting in the sense that, as a graduate student in translation and localization management, we are always taught about the best practices and how to do localization fast in a company. However, sometimes we are shy from the fact that there are a lot of companies that is not a massive, worldwide organization, that is facing a lot of challenges that we don’t get exposed to in our textbook or our lectures.
Marie: It is very different in the sense that I think our projects are more complex than a lot of other companies, even with the companies that I worked with, where there was in and out, very easy Word document translation. Some companies will focus on one language. And we worked a little bit differently than that, because we provide a service that works for clients and that they may not find in some of the bigger companies because we have attention to details and the level of expertise that really helps them deliver very good projects. And it’s also in a way that the technology we have because we have to know a lot of different tools.
I can say one thing that I think it is really great that you Kaixin and other students are actually interviewing people and doing podcasts that allow the younger communities and the students to know about different speed bumps and different processes. Of course, companies are different, and companies like TransPerfect or Lionbridge will not have the same speedbumps as we do. I’m glad that you’re doing this, thank you for interviewing us. I hope we see more projects like this that can help students and other people that are new in the industry learn more about the challenges that we have to face. So thanks for doing that.
B: Thank you.
Kaixin: That’s all the time we have for today and thank you for listening to our episode of speed bumps.