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Nov 22, 2014

Put on the red light at thebigword!


For those of you who thought that "House of the Rising Sun" was an Animals original, think again. It's likely that the song predates the recording of Leadbelly's wife here; the traditions of translation and the often similar business described here go back a long time, and these days, they seem to intersect particularly, particularly if one is "in a relationship" with a large Linguistic Sausage Producers (LSPs) like thebigword, which recently issued one of its periodic demands for translator rate cuts in a year in which record profits were posted and fat bonuses paid (see "Meaty Payday for thebigword Director").

Often when veteran translators gather at conferences, online or even down the road for coffee, the subject of project management quality - or the lack thereof - at companies like thebigword, TransPerfect, Lionbridge et alia comes up. There is a widespread impression that these big agencies hire recent university graduates as staff to recruit, test and manage translators, editors and interpreters for their corporate and government clientele. I cannot count how many times some outraged language service greybeard like me has griped about the stupidity of some PM who is presumed to be not only wet behind the ears but in other ways as well, not having yet graduated from diapers.

I am pleased to report that these assumptions appear to be baseless, at least as far as thebigword is concerned. After a tip from one colleague, I began to research the impressive qualifications of the human interfaces at this LSP using their LinkedIn profiles. Here is some of what I found:







Clearly, the next time I do a translation related to veterinary science or training dogs to track and hunt, I will need to take care, because my work might be reviewed by a volunteer dog handler. And I'm sure that these big sausage shops have the erotica angle covered too.

Reviewing the educational histories of some staff at thebigword who claim to recruit and test translators, I found it interesting to note that university education did not appear to be a job requirement. No matter; I can name two good linguists who never attended university, and I'm sure there must be a third one out there somewhere. With project management skills, of course.

So, dear colleagues and corporate clients, the next time you are frustrated in your dealings with some large translation agency and start to grumble about the qualifications of recent university translation studies graduates, be careful. My initial research shows that you may owe a big apology to some recent grads.



If you are looking for an exit strategy from the bulk market bog, don't let the glass door hit you in the a**e!

14 comments:

  1. I'm concerned that not a single one of these people has any background at all in the translation industry. There's nothing wrong with working as a bar supervisor, hair stylist or manager of a pizza shop (mmm, working around pizza all day!)... but call me prissy if you want--when I work with a PM or anyone else at an agency, I like it when they have a background in our industry.

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    1. Audra, if it's pizza you need, drop by the office here in Alentejo. I make a mean pizza and pretty good calzones too and try to keep my staff and vicious dogs properly fattened.

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  2. Methinks it says enough if an LSP cannot distinguish between "interpreting" and "interpretation". It gives a whole new interpretation to the "language industry"...

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  3. I gave them a second chance a few monhs ago, but had to say goodbye again last week. I honestly tried, but enough is enough, life is too short etcetera. The rate is LOW, the PMs have NO IDEA what they're doing and keep putting the pressure on that the rates have to be lowered even more.No glossary provided, but insistting on consistency where the TM contains a multitude of different - sometimes very interesting - options. And they have the translations reviewed by a marketing guy OR a car technician OR probably the bookkeeper, who all have their own preferences and insist the translation must be consistent HAH! As I told them, they had my full commitment and I honestly tried, but I'm done with them, with this end client AND with the BigWord. What a relief!!

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  4. Just remembered one more thing - they are not working with me as a vendor... as a freelance translator... no, they treat me as if I'm one of their employees... and that I am not and never ever will be! Aaaaah it's so good, having that freedom...

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  5. I always found it amusing that they use the title 'Project Manager'. I have tremendous respect (and even admiration) to the work done by real project managers, and any similarity between the skills, knowledge, experience, and work done by real project managers and that of a translation agency project manager is coincidental at best. In the broker type of agencies those who are called PMs are in fact low-level clerks, not much different from telemarketing call center agents. They have no control or say over the project, and they are just there to carry out the company's policies, while gaining some work experience before they will hop on to the next job (and they usually have very high turn around).

    Since this is a low-level, low-wage job in a borderline abusive environment, those who join are not very skilled at project management, and certainly don't know anything about the translation/interpreting service sector and work. They go through some rudimentary training that mostly teaches them how to manipulate people in a way that aligns with the company goals.

    I once had a very interesting, and equally as disturbing, chat with a former PM at one of the "big-box agencies", from whom I learned some of the above.

    Websites like Glassdoor also gives a little insight into how things work from the inside when it comes to project management.

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  6. No surprises here. The 'quality' of everything TBW does is why I told them some years ago to take a hike. I prefer working with people who understand what they are doing.

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  7. Is there any other "industry" comparable to the "translation industry" where you don't need to know any actual knowledge of what it is that your are selling to be able to work in "the industry"?

    For example, if you want to sell cars, you need to know something about cars, or at least have a driver's license, if you want to be a pimp, you need to know something about working girls and johns because you will be dealing with them professionally on a daily basis, but if you want to be a PM working for a big translation agency, it is apparently fine if you don't know anything about the languages that you are selling.

    My explanation: of course it's fine if the people working in the agency (such as the PMs) don't know any foreign language - their bosses and the owners of the agency don't know anything about languages either.

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  8. There is nothing wrong with the fact that one decides to be a counter person or a dog walker to support his/her studies or even to make a living until something more appropriate comes up, and all I can see are just partial screenshots.

    So I don't know if these people actually studied HR or any other related field and won't judge them as professionals. But the fact that they behave in a certain (non-professional, non-ethical) way once hired by TBW just makes me think more and more about the low consideration that that company has for people, in general: employees, freelancers etc.

    It seems to be a certain logical path: let's work with people who are either too desperate to complain or too excited at the idea of a proper job to notice we are abusive and unethical. Let's avoid training them....oh wait, let's cancel any kind of ethical consideration for the translation industry, translation as an academic subject, translation in general.

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  9. There's nothing wrong with being a counter person or a dog walker at all, but I would think there is something wrong with a person who chooses to include that information on LinkedIn or another such portal ostensibly designed to aid their future career in translation.

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    1. It's not about the individuals, it's about a company and the type of choices it makes *consistently* in choosing staff. You can always have individual exceptions, and I know many. One of the best PMs I know in Düsseldorf is an ex-hairdresser and dog breeder. He probably knows CAT tools better than I do, and he's a very good L2 reviser. But such people are exceptions, and when the first 7 profiles for thebigword staff that I call up on LinkedIn all look like this... we... what can one say? Oh, and I just looked... his LinkedIn profile only mentions relevant language industry experience, but given his competence, that is what I would expect.

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    2. The author seems to have overlooked the fact that these Big Word employees are almost certainly from Yorkshire and therefore experts in everything ;-) As they say "You can always tell Yorkshire folk but you can't tell them much"!

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  10. I am a qualified translator and worked as a PM for 6.5 years. The first company I worked for is a small agency that specialises in software localisation and they sent me to a proper PM course, at the end of which I had to sit an exam to achieve a PM qualification. This was one of the best things that ever happened to me! However, I am not aware of any other companies that do that.

    I went for an interview at TBW once, but I turned the job down because when I entered their office it felt like a hard labour concentration camp. Over the years I have seen numerous agencies following the same strategy as TBW, which is hire graduates in order to keep costs down. As I gained more experience in the industry and became more senior, I found myself managing a team of only graduates and interns, being the only experienced person in the room. I was eventually "priced out" of my job and pretty much the industry in general, as my employer decided they couldn't afford a team leader anymore, so they just hired more interns and left the graduates do the whole thing on their own. Hardly anyone recruits at my level anymore, so no new job for me!

    This is a very sad development in the translation industry and there doesn't seem to an end in sight, as long as companies such as TBW, TransPerfect or (even worse) Capita keep pushing prices down so they can win more big contracts, with the cost being cut not only by pushing freelancer rates down, but also by not employing experienced people that know what they're doing.

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  11. hahahahaha
    Kevin, your blog is always a pleasure to read, educational and hilarious, a shot in the arm
    thanks!

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