“What do you do at work?”
It’s not uncommon for those in the language industry to answer this question. Assumptions about Language Service Provider (LSP) employees run the gamut, but the most common is that we all speak a second language. Although this is the case in some instances, it’s not always true.
In order for a localization operation to run smoothly, there are a number of working parts: Good translators, effective desktop publishers and automation techniques are all necessary pieces of the puzzle. And one position that’s absolutely integral to a successful translation project is an effective Project Manager (PM).
PMs are the backbone of a translation job, coordinating a project from start to finish. They work as an in-between with clients and linguists, making sure all the I’s are dotted and T’s crossed.
To get a better idea of what the gig entails, we caught up with United Language Group PM Alex Kivley to give us the inside scoop. Here’s what she had to say.
How long have you been a project manager with ULG? Did you work in project management before joining ULG?
AK: I’ve been here for over a year and I actually started with KJ International a few months before we merged and became ULG. Before this, I worked with a local interpreting agency and helped them start a translation department to support their existing clients as well as seek out new ones. I also have security clearance to translate for the federal government on the side – I’m a language nerd at heart!
What does a typical day consist of?
AK: Well, I can’t speak for all PMs, but I can certainly tell you about my own experience, and each day varies. Project Managers can have anywhere from 10-40 projects at any given point and it can be overwhelming, but organization is key.
Project Managers do it all; we work with the clients before a project even begins to support and prepare for the most successful outcome. We help the pricing department provide quotes for new projects and we fully prepare new projects as soon as they are approved. This includes aligning team members to work on the project, setting up the schedule, providing the project instructions for each part and preparing the files for translation.
When the project is underway, we continually monitor projects to ensure schedules are met and we work with in-country reviewers for additional feedback on successfully recreating the client’s preferred tone and style. Additionally, near the end of a project, we work closely with our quality reviewers to ensure all client-specific instructions are met. When the projects are approved, we prepare the final files and deliver them to the client!
Aside from the day-to-day project operations, we are constantly working behind the scenes to address client feedback and review and improve processes as needed. It is important to be as proactive as possible, so we can be as successful as possible!
What the hardest part of your job?
AK: The hardest part of my job is probably juggling all the moving parts at once. Some days are so crazy. If a PM has to spend a considerable amount of time on one task, it can affect the flow of the rest of the day.
What do you like most about your job?
AK: I like to make my clients happy! I strive to do my best each and every day and my goal is to not only meet, but also exceed, expectations. Aside from that, I love learning about other languages, from odd grammar nuances to stylistic differences, it’s so intriguing to see how similar and different each language can be.
What’s something a project manager does that many people wouldn’t realize?
AK: Specific to United Language Group, we are a 24-hour operation. So, we often work odd or long hours if we need to collaborate with our colleagues in opposite time zones.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in project management?
AK: Find your organizational groove. Each person manages their day differently, but find the style that works for you and stick with it. Also, ask questions! Reach out to linguists if you want to understand something better; the more knowledge and understanding you have about how linguists perform their work, the better!
Simpler subjects or those written in plain language will not take as long to translate as projects that require technical jargon or otherwise specialized language. It is easier to find a linguist who can translate a project with plain language, such as most website homepages and blog posts, than to find a linguist who is also a subject matter expert. Some specialized topics include medicine and science, and finding a translator skilled in these topics may take longer because they are in high demand and fewer of them exist.
In addition, the challenges of legal translation include matching not only the translated words from one language to another, but also finding the appropriate legal concepts in the target language that convey the intended meaning of the original language. Legal translations tend to take a while.