E.g., 04/01/2020
E.g., 04/01/2020

Takeaways from GALA 2016 New York

By: Andrew Hickson (Community Administrator) - Euro-Com International B.V.

01 April 2016

Now that the dust has well and truly settled and most of us are back in our respective countries at our respective desks, I wanted to reflect a little on what was a rather hectic week in New York. I’ve tried to wait some time before metaphorically putting pen to paper because I was aware that the relative euphoria experienced in such an intensive conferencing format was going to colour my opinion of the week.

I left NY on a high. I met so many engaging people from such varied and colourful backgrounds. Every one of them open to work related and socially orientated conversations on a myriad of topics.   

At this time last week (Tuesday morning at 09:30), if I ignore time differences between New York and the Netherlands, I was sitting in a Masterclass on how to “Equip Your Sales Team to Sell Complex Audio-visual Translation” given by the impressive Alexey Kozulyaev. (When I take time differences into account I was actually in my hotel on 4th Ave in Brooklyn trying to cram a full night’s sleep into half a night.) Alexey’s masterclass was interesting primarily from the point of view that I was completely unfamiliar with Audio-visual translation. I am still very much a novice in the world of localization. This time 2 years ago I was coming to terms with the bankruptcy of my own business (a cocktail bar in Nijmegen which I just about kept afloat for 6 years following the financial market crash...more on that later...)

I have one overpowering take-away from that masterclass. Now, I don’t want to sound dismissive of the presentation, but my abiding memory is having a towering Russian with impressive eyebrows staring down at me while the lady sitting next to me, Isabel Afonso of Ibero-American Productions, asked her question. I cannot remember the question or answer for the life of me, but the situation is burnt into my memory bank. Looking back at the GALA conference as a whole there are many other such situations which have created a special place to reside in my memory banks.

So here are my takeaways from my first GALA conference:

The Future is Here

Okay, so starting with the future may seem a little odd, but so much of what I saw and heard on Sunday and Monday just screamed “the future is now”, and I don’t know if I should be afraid or not. My first interaction with the future was a brief conversation with Tatyana and Alex from Cloud Interpreter.

Tatyana was a disembodied head in an iPad on an industrial selfie stick Segway (I'm pretty sure that's the technical name for it) who had the ability to adjust her height to look you in the eye and could pivot to follow the speaker in a conversation. "Meeting" herself and Alex during the Welcome Reception on Sunday had me questioning the reputation of “weak” American beers. I can't pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time, so the idea of listening, translating and communicating at the same time is borderline witchcraft to me. 

The keynote on Monday morning was delivered by Pavan Arora from IBM who introduced Watson and spoke at length about the learning ability of the system. This was followed by the Masterclass: International Search Engine Optimization given by Chris Raulf. One phrase resonated with me more than others; “Keep Google happy…”. After the borderline dystopian opening to the day with Watson where all I could think of was Skynet, I didn’t know if I should curl into a foetal ball and cry or go looking for John Connor.  In the end I got distracted by the issues we were experiencing with the WiFi. How was I supposed to complain about technology bringing about the end of mankind if I couldn’t get on social media to share my concerns? 

Cooperation/Consolidation Dilemma

I don’t know if this is strictly a take-away from the week in New York, but there seems to be a couple of trains of thought on the way to proceed in the language services industry, and I’m not sure they are entirely compatible; Cooperation and Consolidation. During the Knowledgefest “Breaking the Mold: From Large and Rigid to Agile, Specialized, and Secure” hosted by Jörgen Danielsen from Eule, the idea of developing, nurturing and maturing levels of cooperation between different companies in the Localization industry was explored. I think the idea was to show that by working together, sharing knowledge and experiences we can help to save costs and get work done faster and more reliably. It didn’t take long for that cooperation to lead to a hypothetical hostile take-over… in our discussion group at least.

As Vicenta from SDL pointed out to me, it’s not just a case of the big firms buying the smaller ones in the industry. Consolidation is happening across the board with take overs occurring between relatively similar sized firms. Given the fractured landscape of the industry, a level of amalgamation was probably inevitable. Over the last few months I have come across many papers and talks on “preparing your exit strategy” from the industry. Prepare to be sold. Or to merge. Or to form strategic alliances. Or to be assimilated. Or just to cooperate on an intensely personal level. I had a great conversation with a couple of guys from the Netherlands, Jacob and Maarten from Bencis Capital Partners. They were there to do more research on the language service industry as a potentially interesting sector for their clients to invest in. I look forward to hearing their thoughts on the week. Indeed in Renato’s closing keynote on Wednesday he made the tongue in cheek aside “if you are looking to sell your company, come talk to me first”. He was smiling, but he wasn't joking.

Should we be looking to investors from outside the industry? Is that a way to infuse fresh blood and new ideas in the industry? Or should we be looking to consolidate or cooperate within the industry? Or do we consolidate by cooperating inside and outside the industry? I’m getting a nosebleed…  

Who dreamt of working in Localization?

In good speaking, should not the mind of the speaker know the truth of the matter about which he is to speak? - Plato

An Irishman, an Austrian, a Brazilian, an Argentinian, and a Romanian walk into a Mexican bar in New York… There’s no joke here, just a series of clichés... 

42 nationalities were represented at the GALA conference last week. That’s quite a chunk of the world covered in one room. Not quite the United Nations, but not bad (and a hell of a lot more cooperative). During his keynote, Renato made the point that the translation industry acquired a lot of its talent by accident, traditionally at least. He started in the world of economics and finance before finding his natural skill for translation to be in demand. He implied that many others from his generation also found their way into translation by accident. I, myself, owned a bar for 6 years before making the obvious (O_o) decision to transition into localization. Malon Hamoen, my boss, has worn many different hats as a professional; from model to agent, to financial administrator and life coach. However, Renato also acknowledged that things are changing in the industry. People are no longer stumbling into translation. For many it is a vocation.

Currently we have 2 interns at Euro-Com's office here in Renkum. Joana (Portuguese) and Marie (French) are both in the master phase of their degrees in translation. Both girls have a strong affinity with languages and made deliberate, conscious decisions to become translators. The language service industry is, by its very nature, a bit of a mongrel. Individually and collectively our ability to understand a topic/client/text will be informed by an innumerable list of influences, including the (work) experiences, education and cultural stimulants to which we've been exposed in our lives.

What is more valuable: someone who stumbles into the translation industry and brings with them years of experience from another sector; or a formally trained linguist with honed translation skills? Are the next generation of linguists being encouraged to seek experience outside of the world of translation? How important is it to have a balance between these two worlds?

Machine Translation

Language is an art, like brewing or baking.... It certainly is not a true instinct, for every language has to be learnt. - Charles Darwin

Depending on your age/background/religion/political stand the words “Machine Translation” can mean very different things. Opinions on MT vary dramatically. Of our two new interns, Joana was taught that MT is the beginning of the end of our industry and is something to be feared and distrusted whereas Marie, while not being overly enthusiastic, has been taught that MT is a potentially useful tool to LSP’s. I have to be honest, I was ignorant of the division within the industry with regards MT until quite recently. Having not worked formally (…translating/deciphering fellow students research papers into scientific English doesn’t strictly count…) in translation before February 2015, I joined the team at Euro-Com with a clean slate. Machine Translation didn’t have any stigma attached and the impression I got from my employers was that MT represents an opportunity, not a threat.

On Tuesday, John Tinsley from Iconic Translation Machines, gave a short talk on “What Your Sales Team Really Needs to Know About MT”. I attended as an interested member of a sales team for an LSP. It took about 30 seconds to remember that MT is a divisive topic. The women sitting directly behind me tutted and sighed through the first 5 minutes of John’s talk. The animosity was palpable. It didn’t take long to realize John was a bit of a sacrificial lamb being sent out to talk in front of a baying mob which included many who were yet to be convinced that MT was not going to take their job. To his credit, John did present a reasonable face for MT and while I’m unsure he convinced everybody in the room, he did get to a point where the women behind me either stopped caring, or decided he wasn’t representing evil incarnate. Either way his answers to their questions and his delivery style seemed to quell the fear…momentarily at least.

Fun fact of the day: MT for Russian and Chinese is as good as it is (similar to German but not as good as France and Spanish) because the US has invested so much in trying to understand and decipher every possible thing said by anyone in either country. Now all Finland and Hungary need to do is to develop a rogue nuclear weapons program, possibly sponsored by Comrade Putin and they’ll have machine translatable languages in no time as well :) 

A New York State of Mind

You can’t do this! Come on people, it’s Sunday! It’s been 15 years since the show ended for God’s sake. It was supposed to be a secret.”

I don’t think it’s possible to write about GALA New York (or any GALA conference if what I’ve been told is to be believed) without addressing the social/networking slant to the event. The tour on Sunday of lower Manhattan was a fantastic way to bed into the group for the conference. Every room I entered for the rest of my time in New York had numerous friendly faces (not my hotel room, that would just be weird...) and those established contacts were more than happy to introduce me to others.

Shared experience is key in building any sort of relationship. On that tour we went through a lot. Freezing temperatures… lots of walking… a late lunch… very little access to coffee… To those of you scoffing I say this; You weren’t there! You can never know what we went through! Do you have any idea what it’s like to be in the presence of caffeine-deprived, hangry, jet-lagged translators as the mercury plummets? Some of those people were South American for God’s sake! They didn’t stand a chance! (To be fair, the person who seemed to suffer most with the cold was a certain 6 foot something Russian who shall remain nameless…)

Poor Don Shin, from 1-StopAsian had his phone and credit card stolen from his rucksack somewhere around Wall Street… just moments after José from Venga Global warned that we shouldn’t walk down there because we’d be robbed. I’m sure he was referring to the banks…

The highlight of the tour for me was visiting Carrie Bradshaw’s house from Sex and the City. I understand that might seem a brave admission but I mean it! The owner of the house greeted us from his doorway with: “You can’t do this! Come on people, it’s Sunday! It’s been 15 years since the show ended for God’s sake. It was supposed to be a secret.”

I have to admit I buckled with laughter, but I did feel sorry for the poor man… Tormented by groups of tourists. The entrepreneurial spirit in the group came to the fore as numerous people suggested he charge a small fee to allow people to take their photos on his steps. Opportunity lost…

New York is probably the only city in the world that you can walk around for the first time and feel like you know it. Everything is familiar; the sights and the  sounds, even the smells.

With all the movies, TV shows, music videos and news reports, New York is a city we all feel we know. It’s a place you can feel connected to so easily. Now I don’t know if it was a subconscious response to the feelings of familiarity in the city, but I feel I have known so many of the people I met at GALA for so much longer than a week. I gave myself the distance of a week before writing this report, but the positive feelings have not been dampened by a little time and space. It’s simply not possible to separate the people from the event. From Débora (the Brazilian who looked more stereotypically German than I look Irish), to the boys from Zelenka who reminded me to "Stay classy", to the guys from XTM and Memsource who were always open to conversation on a wide variety of topics (one or two not work related!), it was a great week. I enjoyed conversations on everything from developments in the translation industry, to the influence of Japanese porn on women in Japan, to the state of the political scene in Brazil, and the ongoing ramifications of a deadly fire in Romania on the music scene there, to why I should not confuse Estonia with Finland,  and why Americans won't be able to claim refugee status in Montreal and on to the appropriate level of intoxication needed before dancing is a good idea...(did not get a satisfactory answer to that). 

Finally, to the speakers, organisers and various committee members of GALA 2016 who went above and beyond in trying to accommodate/facilitate/stimulate conversation with anyone willing to engage and share their experience, I would like to say thank you! It was truly a memorable week. I look forward to seeing you all somewhere down the road... hopefully here in The Netherlands at GALA 2017 in Amsterdam!

It was a business doing pleasure with you all

Andrew Hickson represents Euro-Com International within the Africa House London platform. He is also Euro-Com International's sales representative to the UK and Ireland market.