September 2012
By Inger Larsen

Inger Larsen is the founder of Larsen Globalization recruitment, which has provided recruitment services to the localization industry worldwide since 2000, with main offices in London and Boston. Before this Inger worked in localization for 15 years on both the production and sales side, for IBM, Microsoft and Xerox.

inger[at]larseng11n.com
www.larseng11n.com

Careers in localization

While studying at university, many students devote themselves entirely to mastering the new language, unaware that the job market holds a vast variety of career opportunities beyond the traditional translator’s positions. Here’s an overview of the many positions available in the localization industry.

Planning for no career

I was talking to a localization project manager the other day about how he got into project management. The answer was: “I had been working as a freelance translator for a good while. Three years ago I applied for more freelance work with a company, and they asked if I was interested in a job as a junior project manager. I had no idea such jobs existed.”

This is a typical example for a “career path” in localization. Very few professionals seem to plan beyond working in the typical entry point positions: translator, engineer, testing or DTP. Universities educate for the first, on the job experience for the next step.

However, it must be said that once inside the localization industry, a number of courses and workshops are available for further education and continued learning, for instance at the Limerick University in Dublin, at the California State University, T the Localization Institute as well as many workshops at industry conferences.

I have been working in localization for over a quarter of a century. In the early 80s, when I decided to get a degree in technical translations in my home country Norway, everyone tried to dissuade me from doing so. “There are no jobs, there is no career in it.” This was of course just before the advent of personal computers. So I started working as a freelancer, got a job as a software localizer and documentation translator, then got promoted to being a project manager. I continued with more project and program management, then account management and eventually global sales. One thing led to another and for the past twelve years I have been working as a specialist recruiter within the localization industry.

When I first started my professional life, I had no idea of career paths either. Mine – with the exception of the last twelve years – is actually a quite typical career path in the industry.

When I go to universities from time to time to give presentations to translation students, both students and teachers are equally surprised about the vast career opportunities.

So let’s look at some of the typical jobs within a localization company.

Image 1: Basic organization of an early-stage localization company

 

Typically, project managers do a lot of tasks that later become more specialized, for instance vendor management, quality management and terminology research. This is in addition to their day-to-day tasks of project planning, costing, file and tools preparations, delivery, troubleshooting, client contact and invoicing.

Sales people might do both sales and account management. Pure sales – prospecting for new clients, cold calling, meeting and presenting, writing proposals and closing sales – is often referred to as “hunter” type sales.  Managing the customer, overseeing deliverables, problem solving and looking for more possible business from existing clients is what we call “farmer” type sales.

In my recruitment firm, these two types of positions are the ones that we get the most recruiting requests for.

Scaling up – larger organizations

As a company grows and gathers larger volumes of work and a greater variety of clients, the need for specialization evolves. Below is a fairly comprehensive list of typical positions that you will find in a large localization company.

Operations

These positions are generally the same for internal localization departments and localization vendor companies.

Image 2: Typical positions within operations in larger localization companies or departments

Sales

For localization vendor companies, it is important to protect and expand their business. In well-developed vendor companies it is not unusual to find at least three of these positions.

Image 3: Typical sales positions in larger localization companies

 

So from being a single freelancer, you suddenly see an organization with many layers and plenty of career opportunities.

A couple of typical career paths:

Translator -> project manager -> account manager -> sales

Engineer -> tools specialist -> solutions architect

DTP -> team leader -> project manager -> operations manager

Interaction between originators and localization

Now this is where it gets really interesting, notwithstanding if we are talking about two different departments within the same company or if the client is the originator and the vendor is the localization company. This is where co-operation, streamlining and process improvement can have a major impact on time, quality and costs.

Typically, in the early stages of developing original material – be it software, websites or documentation – the content is created without much thought about going global. Back in my early days we had examples of hard coding of software strings, compilation build kits not allowing for national characters, national characters being misinterpreted, etc. Once, after I had localized a software product into Norwegian and got it back from the software engineers after compilation, I found that the special Norwegian character ”ř” had been interpreted as an end-of-line character.

With the advent of experts and specialist tools for localization and internationalization, fortunately this does not happen too often today. Stories of significant improvements needed in the original still abound. One example I heard of, was applying simplified English to the original – it resulted in improved clarity in both the original and the translations and, since the new text was shorter, a cost saving of more than 30% for every translated language.

Terminology

This deserves a heading of its own. This can be a dedicated position, or it falls within the remit of existing positions on the originators' side and the translation companies’ language departments. Thorough management of terminology is really important. Not just for streamlining products and messages across the company in all the languages, but also for improved outcomes from Computer-Aided Translation tools as well as Translation Memory and Machine Translation.

In summary

People in the localization industry have a wide range of career opportunities. The vast majority of them loves it and actually gets quite addicted to the diversity of their working life. Many get to work with international people from all sorts of backgrounds. I meet candidates who have left the industry and can’t wait to get back into it. A typical comment I might hear from such a recruit is: “People in my new company are all the same – I can’t stand it!”

An event like the tcworld conference in Wiesbaden in late October brings together the originators and the localization professionals to meet and exchange ideas for improvement – the two sides coming together and looking at the entire process of information development as one, to everyone’s benefit. I look forward to seeing you there.

 

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#1 Alicia González wrote at Mon, Sep 03 answer homepage

Great article, Inger!

 

I also give speeches to Translation students at University where I talk about the different careers within a localization company. As you say, at University they focus on the job of a translator and very often forget that there are other possibilities.

 

When I explain it to students, I often get questions about the other careers from students who are not too convinced about becoming a translator and then they notice that they can still be in this industry without necessarily working on translations only.

 

I would say, however, that it is important to have a basis. My career path is the first one mentioned in your article, and I think that I wouldn't have been able to work on Sales and Marketing now if I hadn't known the business from the inside by working as a translator.

 

Kind regards,

Alicia