“This is a tough business” An interview with Anna Schlegel about the globalization market

By Andrea Bindereif

At the May 2003 general meeting, Anna Schlegel, Global Content Manager at Xerox and long-time member of NCTA, presented a Q&A session about the localization market for translators. Originally from Spain, Anna had made the exciting transition from freelance translator to in-house translator and then project manager during the boom years, in the mid- and late 1990s. She has worked for some of the biggest companies in the industry, such as Cisco Systems and Xerox, and has experienced the transformation of the translation field firsthand. We captured Anna’s view of the localization industry in an interview.

TL: Anna, tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, when and why did you come to the US, and how did you start as a translator in this country?

AS: I am Catalán. I come from a little beautiful village called Olot, at the foot of the Pyrenees, not far from Perpignan. I came to the States in 1992, and I had already started my own little translation business in my head flying over in the plane, thinking what I would do in this country if I were not accepted into an MBA Program.

TL: How was the translation industry when you started working here? And how was it in Spain back then?

AS: When I started here in the States I had WordPerfect, there were no translation tools, and I was already being paid 11 cents a word. Localization and Globalization were really scary words to me at that time, but I already wanted to learn more about them.

In Spain, I had worked at a software engineering firm, translating manuals into English, and I was being paid the equivalent of $5 an hour. That was in 1990. That was also my fifth year of studies in German philology, and I needed the cash to survive in Barcelona. Then I came to the States. To get by, I also had to teach English and German. I didn’t know how to get into the translation market back then.

TL: How did you make the transition from freelance to in-house translator at one of the biggest tech companies?

AS: I got a phone call one day from a desperate HR employee at Cisco saying, “We hear you are good, can you start tomorrow?” The next day I got an anxiety attack, but I started anyway. It was awful. I was sitting in a conference room with all these corporate folks with paradigms, visions and objectives, Q1s and levels of effort, suits and PowerPoints full of acronyms. I thought I would die.

I found out later that a Silicon Graphics employee for whom I had done telephony translations had recommended me for the position. He was Andreas Ramos. I will always remember his name, and I don’t know if I would ever have worked in these powerhouses otherwise.

TL: How important was translation work for high-tech companies in the 1990s, and how much respect did translators enjoy?

AS: The work was very well paid, we were already able to telecommute, and we learned TRADOS and other tools. It was fun, but also scary because we were just translators trying to navigate the bureaucracy in these really big corporations.

TL: How has your own role as an inhouse translator for high-tech companies changed over the years?

AS: I started as an in-house translator and was promoted several times in the course of three years. Those were the good old days… I went from consultant to in-house translator to project manager to program manager II to leading a small team. And now to leading the globalization effort for a bigger operation of 28 websites.

TL: Can you tell us a bit about the development of software localization and globalization?

AS: It is key to be part of the very first stages of whatever software application you’re working on, and you need to raise your concerns right at the requirements phase. You want to follow its development all the way until implementation. Some companies, or should I say groups, are better than others in engaging the global folks at the outset of software development. Globalization really happens through education of software developers and close collaboration with your stakeholders.
Also, you need to find the kinds of people who can bridge technology and the business side of why you need a global tool. Communication and being at the same level is key.

TL: Do you remember the early translation tools, and can you tell us how they’ve developed over the past few years?

AS: I remember working with TRADOS. I still own it, but I rarely use it anymore; I am more on the management side of globalization now. Our current vendor is moving away from creating an internal tool and going back to TRADOS.

I am still surprised to see all these companies spending humongous amounts of money trying to create tools that don’t integrate well.

TL: What is required from a translator today in comparison to the mid-1990s? What is a typical profile of a translator specializing in localization?

AS: I don’t think that much has changed for the profession in itself, other than the tools we use are better and computers are faster. What has changed in the newer versions of translation memory programs is that nowadays we have better tools to freeze tags. I can remember destroying all kinds of code…

I’d say that a typical profile would describe someone who uses computer-assisted translation tools, understands the business he/she is working for, asks about terminology, has a good relationship with the project managers. And is someone who understands what the project entails, who needs to know what not to touch in a translation, who knows about HTML, XML, or whatever format is needed. Although now we do have good file processing that can freeze code.

TL: What does a typical workday look like for you?

AS: As a Global Content Manager at Xerox, I am in meetings all day with translation project managers, web managers and my senior managers, trying to coordinate 28 countries. I am on the phone with South Africa, India, France, Egypt, Brazil – you name it. We brainstorm about what countries need to have, content-wise, to make their business successful. Most projects start in the US, then we follow up for other regions.

TL: How important is knowledge of translation tools for a translator today? And what is a good way of learning to use CAT tools?

AS: To those not familiar with translation tools, I would suggest downloading demos from TRADOS and IBM. I would start there. I think a translator who is here to stay in the profession and wants to go into localization needs those kinds of tools.

I am not talking here about translating resumes or fliers or business cards. I don’t think you have to have CAT tools for those, but it definitely helps on those bigger projects.

TL: What would you recommend to a translator to stay competitive in the field?

AS: Market yourself, get ATA-accredited, put yourself out there even if it is scary. And take those jobs that scare you; you can always take a partner in crime. Learn by doing, write to corporations, or take tests with translation firms that are looking for freelancers.

Keep evolving with whatever is needed.

TL: Where do you see translation five and ten years from now?

AS: More and more, US corporations are leaving globalization up to the foreign countries. I see less being paid from the US and more being relegated to other countries: it is up to them if they want something translated. That is where things are heading, to my mind. This is a tough business. Budgets are tight, and things get translated only if they will bring in money and are key to the success of the business. I also see less centralization. Globalization customers within the corporation are not forced to use a particular vendor or another corporate unit; it is preferred, but not mandated, in most of the corporations I know. This hurts the business, in my opinion. I am for a centralized approach, if it is well leveraged and well run.

TL: Thank you for talking with us, Anna.