Localization Consultant - A Personal Story

  • 20 April 2016
  • Anni Laine

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In my career I have come to expect and answer certain questions whenever the topic of my profession comes up. What is localization? What is it that you actually do if you're not a translator? How did you start out on your career? What is language technology? How did you end up studying that?

The fact is, my business and and my career are not common. People have been curious about it, so let me shed some light on my path.

As it often happens, when I started my studies, I did not set out to become a localization consultant with my own business. Far from it. Still, looking back now, my love for languages and interest in technology have led me here, step by step, to help software companies to improve their localization practices and to avoid stumbling on common problems on their way.

Visual CV

Language technology - what is that?

For those expecting an answer, language technology is a field of processing natural languages with computer software. This includes e.g. machine translation, grammar & spell checking tools and speech recognition.

My first, seemingly random step in this path was applying to the university to study language technology. Truth is, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up, but I did know I was interested in languages, so I attended an info session about language related studies at the university. There was a very enthusiastic student talking about language technology - which I knew absolutely nothing about at the time - and when he said "You should study this if you're interested in languages and computers", my decision was made.

Reflecting now on my studies, I was very much looking for my place at the university. The degree was half technical, half linguistic, and on top of that I took all the language courses I could fit in - especially languages that don't use Latin script because you have to be able to read any language, right? I notice now that my computer science studies had the same pattern - I wanted to learn the logic of many different programming languages but never got that deep in any of them. I graduated in the expected time and with good grades but uncertain about where my degree would professionally take me.

First steps in localization

Let's get the definition out of the way: Localization is the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market. A lot of things besides translation are involved, even if translation is often the most visible part.

It started when I was looking for a summer job while studying. I applied to companies related to language technology, and there was this localization company called BGS looking for summer trainees. I got a job and started learning about localization as a project manager's assistant. After the first month I was dropped in deep water when the project manager started her month-long vacation and I was to be her backup for all her projects. Let me tell you that a localization project manager has a lot of projects at any given time, with a lot of details keep track of. I did my best to be worthy of the trust I was given.

I learned a lot that summer, and even more during the next couple of years when I kept working part-time during the terms and full-time every summer. I found in myself a knack for keeping things organized and a tendency to suggest improvements on current processes, as well as an inclination to teach others as much as could to help them with their work.

Growing in the team

After I'd finished my thesis in a research project at the university, I returned to BGS, meanwhile acquired by Lionbridge, as a full-time employee. I was given different project types than before and I soon found myself learning a lot of new things and being given more technical responsibility, while my main task was still project management. After a while the company needed a new technical expert and I moved to a new role, first learning from two more experienced localization engineers. Eventually as they moved on, I ended up as the primary localization engineer for a designated group of projects.

That's when I really began to grow. I was never officially named as a team lead, but that's what I was in practice - I took care of training new people, advising project managers and working together with everyone to make processes run smoothly. We had an amazing team spirit, and I learned a lot of valuable lessons about cooperation and figuring out the best ways to work together.

Taking a step forward

I eventually left the team when I took some time off for maternity leave. When I came back, I had some difficulty finding my place again, and I figured it was time to move on. I decided to pursue my third passion - games.

When I joined Rovio, they were growing fast and so was their localization. I was put in a position where I was to develop and coordinate localization processes, while having to quickly get familiar with game development and figure out how to best tie localization into it.

After some time of getting my bearings and setting up workflows I found that I most enjoyed the times of working in close cooperation with the developers and teams, especially for new projects, finding the best solutions and improving on what had been done before. Always ready to answer questions, solve problems, and apply my expertise for the benefit of all.

Finding my own way

In retrospect, seeing what it was that I did best, knew best and enjoyed best, going into consulting might have been an obvious choice. Still, it took a while to sink in that starting my own business was a real possibility. Somewhere along the line, however, a few people planted the seed in my mind and it started to grow.

What makes localization successful is having someone experienced working on the project from the start.

Once I decided entrepreneurship was possible and in fact just the right step for me, I jumped in with the drive I always have when I've reached a decision. I feel that now that I have my own business, I can concentrate on really making a difference - not only inside one company, but on a wider scale.

All my experiences with different clients and projects have shown me that what makes localization successful is having someone experienced working on the project from the start. Not every company needs to have such a person in-house - for smaller startups it would not even make sense. Still, every company should have a chance to get help from an expert and that's what I'm here for. Ready for new allies and new experiences.

Originally published in LinkedIn