Trait Trees for LSP Project Managers - Rising Star Winner

As part of the 2017 GALA Rising Star Contest, students across the world were asked to answer this question: "It's not just about language anymore. What traits are needed to be a successful language industry professional?" Participants from more than 30 academic programs submitted responses. The winners received a free registration to the GALA Amsterdam conference and a travel stiped. 

The following essay by Sijing Yu (MIIS) was one of two winners. You can read the other winning essay by Marion Hernandez (University of Geneva) here.

Trait Trees for LSP Project Managers

Paul Cerda, a senior localization project manager, talked about how he embarked on his career in this industry and said that “my story may be one of the last where bilingual skills were enough to enter the career, and it was only possible because I worked in an industry that has not yet adopted common localization techniques.” (2010, p. 39)

His article, Beginning a career as a localization project manager, published in Multilingual six years was one of my introductory readings when I began my studies on Localization. After I graduated and started job hunting, I figured out how true his words were. There is no one job description (JD) in the language service industry that calls for linguistic competencies only. Even for the entry level positions, companies are looking for someone who could offer, or at least have the potential to offer something more than “the proficiency in more than one language.”

Even though many JDs say “degree in linguistics or translation studies is preferred,” I've noticed that many of my peers are from all kinds of educational backgrounds. This may demonstrate that besides proven skills and experiences, employers are looking for some sort of traits which fit into the career path of the position. Traits are often amplifiers of how you do or complete something that is a skill (Redletter Resumes, 2015). Your personality traits can make it easier to pick up certain skills than others (Jackson, 2011, p.5). If we find out what are the desired skill sets in the language service industry, we can deduce what traits are needed.

Translation & Localization Program offered by MIIS (Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey) aims to prepare the talents for language service industry. The program is organized around three areas of skill training: translation, technology, and business management (MIIS, p.1, p.2). From its curriculum, we can deduce that a mix of traits needed are linguistic sensitivity, technical acumen and management know-how. I borrow the term “trait tree” from online games and use it to refer to the traits and corresponding skill sets in order to succeed in this industry.  

Yet localization is “a highly-structured profession” (Cerda, 2010, p. 39).Traits and skill sets needed for its professionals can vary depending on organizations and positions. The vendor-side language service providers (LSP) require different traits and skills sets from the client-side. And even within the localization service company, there are discrepancies because people there play diverse roles -- “a project manager overseeing schedules and budgets, a linguist to monitor any linguistic issues, an engineer to compile and test localized software and online help, and a desktop publisher to produce translated printed or online manuals” (Esselink, 2003, p.25). 

This essay will focus on the trait trees for Vendor-side project manager. Vendor-side project manager (PM), as the one who oversees each stage of the workflow, must know a bit of everything and thus is considered as the position that “offers the chance to gain the broadest skill sets in shortest amount of time” (Cerda, 2010, p. 39).

Technical Acumen

“The localization market emerged and developed in parallel with globalization and the rapid expansion of new technologies” (Version Internationale, p.1). Localization, as an industry that “has effectively followed the growth of information technology” (Version Internationale, p.1), has technology in its DNA. People who fail to adapt themselves to the current translation technologies in the market or who respond slowly to the new tools and techniques can never succeed in this profession.

For LSP PMs, mastering the computer-assisted translation tool which is used internally is a must. But besides that, they also need to understand the compatibility of all the mainstream CAT tools in the market for external vendors use a variety of them. I had learnt and used the market standard tool Trados at school and during my internship before I got full time job as PM in the vendor side. But soon I realized how insufficient my experience with Trados was. There are some vendors who use different versions of Trados, some who use its alternatives which causes extra troubles in file exchange, and others who reject the help of translation memory technology and prefer the simplest Microsoft Word/Excel. I have to ask, research, and figure out these subtle differences when I bump into these situations at work.  

LSP PMs “are more concerned with translations and finished file formats,” but it does not mean that we can limit ourselves in the domain of translation technology. Because how people work in the upstream can affect our performance in the downstream. If the product team keeps writing UI strings with placeholders and concatenation, we as PMs need to know what kinds of issues their way of coding can bring to translation and then provide specific guidelines for translators and QA.

I am not saying that having technical acumen means that engineering skills are required, but as the role who oversees and coordinates the whole process, it is a great advantage if they are equipped with some knowledge in DTP and localization engineering, like what tools to use for prepping different file types, how to do linguistic testing for software and games.  

Linguistic/cultural Sensitivity

Project managers are not linguists, but they are in charge of the communication with linguists, and so PMs should be able to think in their shoes. The biggest myth outsiders have for our industry is that anyone can do translation as long as they are bilingual. But if they are sensitive enough to recognize the distinction of each language, they can understand the intricacies of translators’ work. One thing I learn in my current company is to treat my vendors nicely – to understand their difficulties at work, offer help when needed, and appreciate their contribution.

In addition to relationship with linguists, linguistic sensitivity also helps with final QA. PMs are the gatekeeper for the quality of finalized translation version. Translation needs to be double checked before delivery by them. PMs with linguistic sensitivity can quickly digest their experience of translation or past projects to summarize commons and differences among families of languages. This perception arms them with keen eyes to detect problems in translation even though they cannot speak the target language, and at the same time keeps them from over-QA which may prolong the process and increase cost of human resources.

Management Know-how

The trait tree of management is probably the one that PMs need to specialize in most of all. 

Time, budget, and quality are the three essential components that PMs take control in the process. The goal of project managers in language industry is to deliver high quality translation within tight deadlines and with limited budget.  

Language-related projects on average have relative short duration (Cavalitto, 2017,p.66). And project managers in the language industry “spend a significant part of their time in activities such as finding vendors, reviewing, desktop publishing and putting out proverbial fires” (Cavalitto, 2017,p.66), leaving them less dedicated time for cost planning, scheduling, scope management etc. The challenging aspect means that the goal is hard to meet perfectly. There are a lot of risks that can make them sacrifice one or two components in the goal.

Good project managers will engrain quality assurance in whole process instead of just take it as a final inspection task before delivery. By doing so, the risk of long-time revision and reworking decreases, short time to market for the Client and satisfactory margin for the LSP are better guaranteed.

My first project was a total disaster. It was to translate a technical pdf file from a right to left (RTF) language into English. I first underestimated the difficulty of file prepping for RTF language and quoted DTP hours much less than it should be. And I made two wrong decisions in a row when selecting DTP and translation vendors. The file was not well prepped and the translation was a mess. The result was that delivery was delayed and the margin did not look good. This is how I learn my lessons. Risks can build up. If I do not “expand QA to the actual design and execution of the process” (Arnsparger, 2013, p.45), the risks will be converted to failure of the project.

“Good project managers take control not only of the process, but also manage their relationships with the stakeholders in it” (Lawless, 2017, p.26). I have collected 10 JDs for PM positions and generated a keyword cloud based on them. The top four keywords are “project,” “manage,” “client,” and “translator.”  The success or failure of a localization project largely depends on how project managers bridge the client and the vendor. Good project managers will “ask customers for additional information and resources, such as terminology, reference documents, product information and so on. They communicate progress, manage expectations and make the work easier for the next person in the process.” They also know the importance of “maintaining good communication channels” with vendor to detect problems as soon as possible” (Cavalitto, 2017, p.68). In contrast, unsuccessful translations are managed by project managers who “operate in a black box” (Lawless, 2017, p.26).

From Junior to Senior

Things will get harder as junior PMs try to move forward to be the senior. Even though they are lucky enough to be blessed with these traits, they still need to spend double or triple efforts in gaining advanced skills. They need to delve into the “new black” machine translation, and learn how to onboard/assist linguists for post-editing. Regarding management skills in the advanced stage, creative problem solving skills may be above all, like how to customize workflow, improve process for future iterations, evangelize clients, etc.

Professionals in other positions or organizations other than LSPs, beyond some of the general skills mentioned in the three trees, may have some specific skills required by employers. Localization professionals in game development may need to possess traits/skills in art artistic areas. And those in software development are more likely to specialize in the engineering skills such as coding.

Sijing Yu recently received a Master’s degree in Translation and Localization Management from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS). Sijing is employed at SeproTec. Sijing is one of two winners in the GALA 2017 Rising Star Essay Contest



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