Yan Carolla, head of localization at DiDi, is positioning her team as a global growth driver.
If you haven’t heard of DiDi, then you definitely haven’t been to China in the last few years. If you have been to China, then you most likely would have used the app at some point to book a car or taxi. DiDi, headquartered in Beijing, has created one of the leading mobility and convenience platforms in China.
The recently-released September/October issue of MultiLingual features an article on DiDi’s localization journey written by globalization project manager Jasmine Bao — because the company is now expanding internationally. DiDi began to focus on international expansion in 2017, and is currently operating in 12 countries with six available languages. Yan Carolla joined the DiDi team as head of localization in February of 2020. Here, she discusses the challenges facing DiDi’s localization team and what it’s like working at one of the largest Chinese Unicorns with serious international ambitions.
Carolla’s journey in the localization industry began in 1994 when she was hired as the first project manager by Lionbridge China. Since then, she has worked on both the client and vendor sides in various roles for businesses like SDL, TransPerfect, Autodesk, and Roxio. She has built and managed globalization, software internationalization and localization teams. Before joining DiDi, she was senior director of Strategic Accounts at TransPerfect. She is based in San Jose, California.
What’s been unique about working at a Chinese company like DiDi?
When Chinese companies go abroad, a lot of them have a specific department that focuses on managing the international business. At DiDi, it is called the International Business and Technology (IBT) team. We have our own R&D, product design, and product management teams in IBT. This team then works with the local teams on developing new products for their local markets.
In Western companies, depending on how mature their localization models are, they often have a centralized localization team that sits either within the marketing team or shared engineering team. Sometimes they are not very visible within the organization.
In DiDi, IBT is highly visible and strategic. Localization is part of the essential function of IBT. Localization doesn’t have to justify our existence, but we do have to make sure that we are understood enough so that we can best deliver our language products.
You inherited a team that was established only two years ago, and your role as head of the localization team was newly created. Did you feel you had a lot on your plate when you started?
I was pleasantly surprised with what the team had set up in less than two years and I was pretty happy with what Jasmine Bao, our localization project manager, did to get from zero to one. We have an operations team with project managers in Beijing and language specialists in local markets. The team had a commercial TMS setup which was integrated with their home-grown CMS. They also had qualified and onboarded an experienced language service vendor. My role is to pull the team together globally and to provide leadership.
What were your top priorities when starting at DiDi?
My priorities are firstly to integrate the global localization team, and then to have a strategy on managing DiDi’s style, tone, and voice in local markets. Thirdly, it’s to provide guidance on new market entry from a localization point of view.
While the localization team in Beijing was centralized, language specialists in each country operated in silos. So my first priority is to pull the global team together to serve as center of excellence globally for anything related to language for DiDi’s products and content. That’s what we need to put in place. When working in unison, we can add more value and solve more problems.
Could you share an example?
For example, if one language faces a truncation problem in the UI, we don’t have enough power to change the design or talk to the development team. But if you have several languages all having the same issue, then you can present that it’s better to redesign instead of working on redoing the translation.
The second priority you mentioned was managing style guides for each language and market and getting everyone to adhere to them. What makes that challenging?
Part of the challenge is that the source is in Chinese. Chinese is a very logical language, so the style of the app is more focused on the features. But in order to connect well with the global users, we need to focus on the benefits of using the product or service, not the feature itself. Our priority is to make sure we maintain DiDi’s global branding but also communicate with our global users as if they are using locally developed products.
How are you dealing with the style, tone, and voice of legacy translations?
In parallel, we ran a big localization quality assurance review of our legacy content to fix historical issues, and then we set up style guides for each language. The language specialists are the owners of the style guides. They are created and maintained with inputs from the marketing, PR and design teams. It is one of the important language guidelines, besides translation memories and glossaries, for the vendor linguists to follow.
Additionally, we also created writing guidelines for source Chinese content. We built a checklist into our content management system for Chinese content creators. When they submit translation requests, the system will remind them to run the style guide checklist. This achieves quality control at the source.
How has the pandemic influenced your work?
Because of this pandemic I can’t travel. I was hoping for closer collaborations with the local leadership teams. I am able to build close communications remotely with China and local operation teams. However, I’d like to communicate more with other local functional teams like legal and marketing to ensure we align well for feature approvals and language approvals.
What do you think is important in order to be a successful manager for a localization team at a company like DiDi?
I’m very impressed with the young people on my team; they are very capable and very smart. Completely capable to do things. All you really have to do is to give them directions, really foster them to grow and mature professionally. They are looking for opportunities to learn and learning at work really motivates them.
One of the things we do in the team is to assign someone to do research on a certain topic — for example, one localization project manager had the topic of localizability. Then she did lots of research and presented to the team. During this process, she expanded her own knowledge on the topic. After presenting to our team, she also presented to the R&D team to help them understand internationalization. As a result, each individual learned more about the industry and the team broadened their overall capabilities.
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