The influence of advanced degrees on career paths

Current students and recent masters-level graduates of translation and localization programs at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) have differing perspectives on how their advanced degrees have influenced their career paths. Here are four such perspectives.

How my education prepared me for a global career

by Evelyn Teo

Working for a small and growing team that supports the localization of 30 languages in an agile software development environment, I am immersed in the constant challenge of pushing the envelope in balancing time, quality and speed with limited resources. Agile means adapting to constant, rapid iterations and regular revisions throughout the project life cycle, and thus requires more efficient management of localization processes and data.

Despite the shorter time-to-market and international simultaneous shipment business demand of burgeoning content, internationalization and localization considerations are often still an afterthought. Within the cross-functional and collaborative nature of agile-based projects, my colleagues and I from the localization team where I am now employed work hard to get an equal seat at the project planning table, acting as a liaison in realizing localization requirements and as an advocate for our international customers. Project management and communication skills are crucial to perform well in a fast-paced localization environment. We often have to prioritize and reprioritize on projects running in parallel as deadlines and schedules get shuffled around.

This is what you hear while training for the industry, too. I picked a graduate school known for providing practical, hands-on 360-degree training taught by practicing professionals in the industry. The case studies and projects we worked on at MIIS from day one in the classroom were derived from real-world scenarios, relevant to the current trends in the industry. Our projects required us to work in teams, switching among the roles of project manager, engineer, desktop publishing specialist, translator, reviewer and so on, covering the end-to-end localization process from both the vendor and client side.

In the real world, localization is only a slice of the pie. The challenge is how we can apply localization best practices in the context of other business factors at play and seeing the bigger picture.

Negotiation skills, for example, are indispensible. I am thankful for the cross-disciplinary courses we were encouraged to take at MIIS. I took project management and global marketing at the business school and international negotiations class in the international policy school. These cross-discipline trainings build competencies that bring a vision and clarity to navigate through leadership and project decisions involving multiple stakeholders representing different interests — as the business jargon goes.

My current day-to-day work also involves collaboration with cross-national work groups and in-country translators from around the world. Being immersed in the diverse international student body at MIIS for two years gave me the opportunity to build an aptitude for intercultural communications, which I have appreciated as I have become accustomed to the international collaboration of the globalized world.

The most valuable knowledge I acquired at MIIS that I apply at work today is recognizing the value of international standards in enforcing and scaling for quality multilingual content. The first project I worked on at after graduation was to introduce and establish the foundation for ISO/TC37 concept-based terminology management principles and processes, tailored to the agile development process within  the research and development team. This project was the best project I could have out of school. My project entailed designing a concept-based terminology database, term extraction, tools evaluation and recommendation. I successfully drove the project to completion, even though my first introduction and training in terminology management work took place during my three-month fellowship program with the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva — an opportunity presented at the 2009 MIIS Career Fair after completing my first year program.

Being a part of the MIIS community has opened many doors of opportunities for me. I was not only taught by, trained by and hired by MIIS alums, but I also work with some of them. Many of the people I meet at conferences are also MIIS alums, which is a great opener for networking. In short, the education, environment and opportunities from MIIS prepared me well for my career. I have the skills and the confidence to solve problems with creativity and educated risk-taking.


How I have applied my education after graduation

by Elias Ferguson

True education as defined by Martin Luther King, Jr. rings true to me when I think about the role education plays in my career: “Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.” With this in mind, education can be divided into three different categories: life itself, filled with character-building challenges, achievements, losses and failures; formal education, from the younger, formative years to the last diploma received; and professional experience, both on-the-job training and the continued education undertaken while working.            

Sometimes it is mind-boggling to examine a fruitful endeavor achieved at work and identify the many educational influences and life experiences that contributed to its success. For example, I had an opportunity through my office to attend a one-week terminology program in Germany taught by TermNet and give a presentation on some terminology cleanup and centralization efforts I was leading at work. This was a culmination of skills, knowledge and character traits built up over decades. It began with longstanding excitement about technology, rooted in the childhood memories of getting a dial-up connection at home on the remote Alaskan island where I grew up. Then there was the linguistic knowledge from an undergraduate degree in Spanish and living in three Spanish-speaking countries; terminology management and public speaking skills gained and refined in classes at MIIS; as well as troubleshooting skills and deep knowledge of terminology software learned through hands-on, trial and error experience at work.

Another example involves an office-wide enterprise management system we implemented several months ago. The transition was an immense undertaking, so the project manager who oversaw the entire process recruited help from around the office. I was asked to oversee the transition of the translating division to the new system. In this role I would need to learn a new software program, document how we were working in our old systems, create dozens of templates and project-specific workflows in the new system, organize a user testing and approval process, create over 130 pages of documentation and train over 20 employees to use the new software. A few short months later the system went live and, despite a fear in the back of my mind that everything would implode, the transition was a quiet one.

The success was a combination of teamwork, past experience and, again, education. The long hours and dedication to ensure success were like a time warp to my childhood summers working on my parents’ commercial fishing boat. How to break an endeavor into individual, measurable and achievable tasks transported me back to my International Business Project Management class at MIIS. Evaluating and implementing new software took me back to my localization classes at grad school. And working with teams of diverse individuals conjured up memories of the countless group projects throughout my master’s degree.           

As I ponder my past and future career, I am amazed by how much has been and will be an amalgamation of my past education and experience; a good reminder to always strive to attend new classes and conferences every year, and try new things.


How I got my first job

by Lian Zhu

How did I get my first job in the localization industry? To make a short story long, let me start with my graduate school years.  

While pursuing a degree in Conference Interpretation at MIIS, I took as many translation classes as possible. I found myself immersed in a sea of theories and knowledge. I used to let my pen run wild when rendering a literary piece, but I learned to rein it in. 

The image of a translator had long been romanticized in my mind: an encyclopedia in one hand, a quill in the other, under the dim light of an oil lamp. Yes, it has to be oil. Courses on computer assisted translation (CAT) tools and terminology management helped me picture a modern translator: translation memory lookup in one window and terminology list in another. I can now easily blend in with a group of IT guys in the office and pretend to be a developer without looking suspicious. Interestingly, however, on a Buddhist retreat, I was approached by a group of Sanghas for advice on how to streamline their sutra translation process.  

The first few months after graduation were not easy. I would spend all day feeding dragons — I was testing a game as a freelance translator. An internship offer letter from the International Criminal Court (ICC) sparked new excitement in my life. Without much hesitation, I got my visa, ready to seize my moment in The Hague and return to China afterwards.  

Just when I had everything planned and packed, a tweet posted by a Monterey Institute professor disturbed my peace — I learned that Amazon was hiring a Chinese Kindle localization editor. If you let an opportunity slide, nothing will happen. So I made up my mind and went for it. The phone screening took a month, but I managed to get an onsite interview just three days before my flight back to China.             

I had far too much coffee the night before the interview and hardly got any sleep. The process took five hours and my weariness set in halfway. As an interpreter, I know very well that there are good days and bad days for one’s B language. That day happened to be a good one for me and I was very much amazed at my fluency — my hours spent on interpretation practice finally paid off! 

There were many unexpected questions, such as what you would do if the vice president wanted you to change your translation to something deviating from the source. Only after joining Amazon did I realize this is not a hypothetical question. The third interview was with the hiring manager, my potential boss. I thought things went pretty well until he ended the interview with a kind reminder: remember to listen to questions carefully and answer to the point. It sent a chill up my spine — was this a signal? A takeaway lesson so that I can fare better next time? He then told me that he used to be the first interviewer and usually gave the candidates this general advice. After joining Amazon, I learned that he was most supportive of bringing me to the team. 

The offer e-mail came three weeks after I started my internship with the ICC. I often wondered what my life would be had I not read that tweet and followed through with the application. Perhaps I would be working with the Sanghas at the Buddhist Text Translation Society? Well, you never know.


How my perceptions of localization have changed

by Allie Browne

Somehow I always knew I wanted to work in translation. People would ask me, “What are you going to do with your degree in language? Do you want to be a teacher?” I would say not necessarily, since my goal was to be a translator. Despite my certainty, I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about accomplishing this goal, but I would find a way.

I have always been very interested in language, especially in dealing with written correctness in all languages I speak. I was fed up with terrible Spanish translations on signs everywhere, and I was on a mission to do the Spanish language justice. 

In my undergrad years, I knew absolutely nothing about the translation industry — I had never even heard of localization! I tried to be proactive, but no one around me knew much either. I remember going to see an advisor at my undergraduate career center, and the appointment was a complete waste of time. Many people simply don’t think about translation as a career or have a clue how the industry really works. 

I learned about the Monterey Institute from a good friend from college who was very familiar with the interpretation industry. She recommended that I go to the Monterey Institute if I wanted to get a good job in the language services industry. However, even after finding my graduate program at MIIS, I had a few misconceptions about the localization industry, just like everyone else I was talking to. I figured I would work as an in-house translator, and maybe eventually translate a few books. I also assumed I could translate into Spanish, and maybe even Portuguese. After my first year of school and a summer internship, I now  have a much better understanding of how the industry works.  Before, I had no idea that the majority of translation work is outsourced to freelancers and agencies. I’ve come to accept the reality of project management — I’m not translating much, but I’m learning about so many other languages that I would otherwise not be exposed to. In addition, I’m learning many other skills that are involved in the translation process — CAT tools, project management, accounting, marketing, software and game localization, desktop publishing and even some localization engineering, just to name a few. These skills will help me in the future as my role in localization continues to evolve. 

The more I learn about localization, the more excited I am about my future career opportunities. With many companies going digital on a global scale, localization services are in high demand across all industries. The language services industry is a pretty small world, and I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few networking events in Silicon Valley. There’s no telling where I’ll end up. Localization jobs are constantly created, roles are evolving and technology is always changing. As localizers, we must be prepared to take on any sort of challenge, and I’m excited for my future!