Localization, project management, and cocktail parties

Why would anyone talk about localization at cocktail parties? Aren’t there better topics – the food, the wine, the hostess’s dress? Why in the world would I want to discuss localization when I meet new people?

Actually, I don’t want to. When I’m at a party, I’d rather talk to people about what they are reading, thinking, or doing this weekend. In fact, I find it easier to listen and let someone else do the talking. But social conventions being what they are, people eventually ask me what I do. And then I have no choice but explain the whole localization thing.

The conversation usually goes like this.

New acquaintance (NA): So, what do you do?

Me: I’m a localization project manager.

NA: *blank stare*What?

Me: Let me guess, you’ve never heard about the localization industry, and this is perfectly normal because it’s B2B so most people never heard about it. Vastly simplified, localization is translation plus everything else  – project management, engineering, publishing, testing, audio recording – that goes into production of a localized product.

NA: *slightly confused* So, what languages do you speak?

Me: *with infinite patience* Well, I do speak a couple of languages, but it’s beyond the point, because I am not a translator – I am a project manager. So what I do is speak to clients, come up with quotes and schedules for their projects, then go back to my team – engineers, translators, testers, and so on – and make the project happen.

NA: Hmmm.

Me: *climbing on my soapbox* Let me give you an example: when Microsoft decides to release Windows in 30-something languages, it’s a lot of work, and what they usually do is hire a localization company to do it for them: take the software apart, translate it, check and double-check it, put it back together, triple-check it, make sure that it still works… So that’s what a localization vendor does – translation plus everything that goes with it. Not just for Microsoft – for any company, big or small, that wants to reach international markets. And not just for documentation or software – also multilingual websites, voiceover, subtitles, marketing brochures, medical information, any kind of content.

And what a localization project manager does (what I do) is be the glue that holds everything together:  keeping things on track, knowing where the client stands, where project stands, where different tasks stand. Half kindergarten teacher, half dominatrix. (OK, I only use that last sentence in very informal settings.)

NA: *very impressed* Ahhh. Fascinating. Where can I learn more about this mysterious, exciting, up-and-coming industry?

Me: So glad that you asked. Since your company is already using localization services (and if it isn’t, then it won’t be able to delay this for much longer), a good place to start would be to read some articles and watch some webinars on the topic. And I’ll be happy to answer your questions and chat more about my work – but maybe not at a cocktail party?

Further reading and watching:

P.S. Of course, the last part of the conversation never happened in real life – only in my head. But hey, now I can just give the link to this post to anyone who asks, “What do you do?”

P.P.S. After many goes at it, I still struggle to explain to give an elevator pitch for “what a localization project manager does” or even for “what localization is”. Maybe it’s time to try talking about “language services” and see how that works? What about you, have you had any luck explaining what your industry is and what you do? Want to share your pitches, in the comments or via email? Bring it on :)

12 thoughts on “Localization, project management, and cocktail parties

  1. I’ve published quite a few articles on the responsibilities of the project manager (as well as different subtypes, this one by the Queensland University of Technology is a good example), but I have never published anything on those of the localization project manager.

    Maybe you can post a bullet point list of roles and responsibilities specifically for the localization project manager.

  2. Jenia Laszlo says:

    Michele, I guess I could write a list of responsibilities, but I am looking for ways of talking about my industry and my job in less formal, and more actual-conversation ways :) Enough with the lists! I just want to be able to give a good, short explanation when I am at a party.

  3. mcasalramos says:

    Boy, you must be a blast at parties…:)

    Seriously, my informal pitch is that localization is about making sure that software, websites, and most other “stuff” can function anywhere in the world that it is being deployed–that means being in the right language for that market, with the right content for that market, with the right functionality for that market. You need a cross-disciplinary team to make that happen–the language people (translators), the technical people, and, of course, the inimitable project managers.

    Alternately, I just reach for another drink :)

  4. Jenia Laszlo says:

    Marcus – party star, yes I am! I have not mastered the nerve to use big words like “deploy” and “cross-disciplinary” outside of work, so yes, it leaves me with the alternate option of pouring another drink :)

  5. When do you usually explain all this? I mean… at drink #4 or drink #1? At drink #4 I usually say: “to be honest, I am unemployed, let’s keep drinking for that”.

  6. Jenia Laszlo says:

    Jose – see, I’m totally non-strategic like that. When they ask me what I do, I assume that they usually care! How silly of me.

    But hey, every industry needs its evangelists.

    P.S. Love your website, by the way. Very sleek design + very sharp photo = swoon.

  7. I feel like we just shared some umbrella-heavy fruity drinks together Jenia!

    I love learning about the secret behind the scenes stuff of how this all works. As a computer using addict who plays with the graphics side every now and then, its always exciting to get the real scoop of how everything gets done.

  8. Nice post! That reminds me of when people ask me what I do for a living and I say that I’m a translator. They think I’m an interpreter (like Nicole Kidman in the movie of the same name), or that I take care of dubbing or subtitles for movies in foreign languages…

  9. Thanks, Sergio! Ack, I know the feeling, I really hate explaining what I do. I actually started saying that I am in a witness protection program, so could not give anymore details. Another options is to roll my eyes and say “I am an international woman of mystery”. Then quickly turn the tables and ask them what they do.

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