Tucker Johnson: Envisioning the Future of QA

MultiLingual: Just to begin, let’s talk a little bit about you, your career and what led you to found Nimdzi with Renato Beninatto in 2017.

Tucker Johnson: I started my career in localization just like everybody else in localization started their career, which is to say, completely by accident. I kind of fell into it, got pulled into it. And once I was here, I just loved it and I haven’t left since then. I started at a small startup and moved to bigger companies, ending up at Moravia. And that’s where I met Renato and worked around him. I never really worked with him — just kind of knew him. We didn’t work on the same projects but made the same enemies. [Laughter.] 

We bonded over that, and I realized, “All right, I can drive with this guy, he can drive with me.” Renato ended up leaving the company much before I did. And one day — I remember it very well — I’m sitting outside in the summertime and I get a call on my cell phone from Renato. And he said he wanted to write a book together and long story short, we ended up writing The General Theory of the Translation Company. He was pestering me to start a business with him, and I kept saying, “No, no, I’m too risk-averse. I like my company salary.” 

After a time, Moravia went through an acquisition. A lot of changes were happening, and I was pretty miserable. About halfway through the book, I said, “Alright, what’s this business idea?” And out of that, Nimdzi Insights was born. The rest is history. 

ML: Can you tell us a little bit about the foundational philosophy of the company?

TJ: We wouldn’t start a company if we didn’t recognize that there was a need in the market that wasn’t being addressed. And that was a need for reliable available research and reporting on the industry. Renato already had that proof of concept [from past experience]. I’d always been a Consumer of CSA Research — Moravia was a subscriber to the services. So I read the reports. And I was never super impressed with them. They’re very boring reports. We wanted to change that.

Our goal wasn’t and still isn’t to beat anyone. But you know, they’re competing with us, but we don’t have to compete with them. Our goal was to help the industry because when there’s increased competition, you know, a rising tide raises all ships, right? A business without competition gets complacent — there’s no innovation.

ML: I’d imagine there’s space there for a company with a different vision and philosophy to make a mark.

TJ: Absolutely. We didn’t want to get too academic. You know, our spirit animal is the honey badger, so we didn’t want to take ourselves too seriously. We didn’t want to be dry and stuffy and academic. We wanted to be engaging, we wanted to be relevant, we wanted to be new and exciting, and all of these things. Because essentially, research is only valuable once it’s consumed. So we want to make research and content available in formats and delivery mechanisms and modalities that are engaging and exciting.

ML: Let’s talk a bit about the Experiential Language Quality Assessment (xLQA) article you wrote for MultiLingual. I understand that provoked a good deal of conversation. Can you explain first a bit about what xLQA is? 

TJ: Sure. So that’s an acronym that stands for Language Quality Assurance (LQA) or Language Quality Assessment — also known as Language Quality Evaluation (LQE). Essentially, it’s the review process that measures the quality of the localized content. Now, this is really important, and it’s a task that is traditionally highly customized. There’s no way to have that kind of quality control unless you have an LQA program in place. But they’re focused on finding mistakes. And I inherently distrust that kind of system — a system that only points out the negatives. 

I’m certainly not advocating for the abolition of LQA as a system, but in my article about xLQA, I make some points about some general trends that I see happening in the industry and make some predictions about the implications for LQA. The main, overarching point is that we, as an industry, have to take a hard look at what quality is. What does that mean? And my grand thesis is: No one cares. How many errors does your translation have? No one cares. What’s more important is they can’t relate to your brand if it’s not speaking to them. What matters isn’t the language — it’s the user that consumes the language. So when I talk about xLQA, I’m talking about an assessment that also measures the effect that translations have on the end user — that’s what matters. 

If I get a review back and the LQA says, well, this is a failed translation, but then I hear from my market that everybody loves it — well, of course I’m not going to change anything. Everyone loves it, right? I’m saying what matters isn’t just measuring localization if it’s not speaking to them. That’s where the experiential side comes in.

ML: So you wrote the piece.

TJ: Yes, I wrote the piece. And what I found fascinating was the response. It all but verified my hypothesis that this industry is overdue for a disruption. I’m not saying this is a disruptive idea — it’s not disruptive. But the industry itself is overdue for a disruption. There’s an appetite for change. We want to take a hard look at how we measure language and quality around the world.

[When we started thinking about this two years ago], it really started the juices flowing because as part of that process we reached out to see what they are doing over at Amazon. What are they doing at Facebook? What are they doing at Microsoft? Not just, what are they doing in regard to language quality, but how do they feel about it? And everyone that I talked to — I haven’t talked to anyone about xLQA who hasn’t been like, “Oh yes. Yes.”

I understand not everyone has the need for this or needs to roll out an xLQA program on top of their existing LQA. But people are interested, and I’m saying that because I’m as shocked as everyone else. So I’m curious to see what the rebuttal will be. 

ML: What kind of conversations did you have after the piece was published?

TJ: I probably had 15 different conversations with different industry people, you know. Some language service providers (LSPs) are interested in it too just to see what’s up. But the folks that would be rolling this out are on the client side, and I’ve had many conversations with different enterprises out there that are interested in this.

But this is a lot of what we do during the office hours at Nimdzi. A lot of the value we add is sometimes giving people a think tank to sound off their ideas. And, if I can be so bold, I would say people are walking away from those conversations very excited and very inspired whether or not they choose to implement an xLQA program. Like I say at the beginning of these conversations, “I ain’t trying to sell you something.” 

But really, what matters at the heart of this is the connection with the end user. Are you getting feedback? Are you listening to your markets? And a lot of people aren’t. I mean, they only listen when they get tagged on Twitter or when someone complains about something. There’s no system to proactively go out there and engage their users.

ML: Now that the article has been out for several months, is there anything you’d want to revise?

TJ: I would have tried to be more clear that xLQA is by no means meant to replace existing LQA. The last thing anyone needs is an additional step in their process. And depending on how it’s done, it can sit quite nicely atop an LQA program. And in fact, it should. It’s very complementary — it’s not meant to be something that replaces it. 

ML: Just in closing, is there anything else you’d like to mention about everything we’ve talked about today?

TJ: Exciting times are ahead out here in the localization industry. This is a people-driven industry filled with fascinating people, and I’m very excited to start seeing the next generation of localization leaders. They’re coming into their own right now, and new people with fresh talent bring fresh ideas. They bring a willingness to experiment and an ability to think outside the box because their brains haven’t been tied to the same processes for the last 20 years. And I’m very much looking forward to seeing what the innovations are — not just in the next 10 years but the next five years or three to five years.