INTERVIEW bY CAMERON RASMUSSON
Los Angeles, California
University of California Davis
There are too many to choose from and too many places I’ve not yet been.
I am a licensed drone pilot.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) markets itself as a means for companies of all sizes to reach a global market and harness the power of the internet without the need to set up the necessary infrastructure and technical know-how. Naturally, with clients from all over the world, there’s no shortage of communication and language challenges to overcome.
It’s an obstacle Scott Schwalbach knows all about. As the global program and release manager for AWS, Schwalbach works with his team to ensure AWS’ services and content — particularly its extensive elearning library — are accessible to everyone. With a career history of working with some of the biggest giants in tech, Schwalbach has watched globalization develop from its early days, and we asked him all about it.
You have no shortage of experience under your belt, having worked in localization and globalization for 46 years. What are some of the biggest lessons learned in four and a half decades?
Change is constant, and the world is ever-evolving. The biggest lesson anyone can learn in this industry is to be curious. Be curious about the end user’s experience, be curious about the technology behind the product, and be open-minded to exploration to create unique solutions to the never-ending stream of changes.
One of your specializations is in advising startups on localization and globalization approaches. For the average startup today, what are some of the key points you’d touch upon?
Always think globally from day one. Anything else will limit your ability to grow as well as prove costly in the long run to adapt. Is your code internationalized? Does the style and tone of your content work across borders and, if not, how difficult would it be to adapt to change? It’s good to be scrappy, but also think of the pathway to take you from scrappy to long-term. What is difficult for startups, as they grow, is to understand that the investment you make now in internationalizing your code, investing in the right localization technology, and picking the right localization partner will bring long-term success and cost savings.
Between AWS, Microsoft, and more, you’ve worked for some massive companies. What are some of the secrets to being effective and working within those large corporate structures?
The larger the company, the bigger the orchestra making the music. Understanding the business needs, understanding the technology and creating solutions that speed time to market while maintaining the right level of quality are all important. Clear communication within teams, creating disruptive solutions while not being disruptive to workflows, and using data-driven problem solving are the key.
A major part of your own need for localization services centers on AWS’ catalog of elearning materials and videos. In fact, your upcoming talk at LocWorld Malmö centers on dubbing elearning at scale through a human/AI collaboration. How do you manage to localize that immense amount of AWS content?
For AWS Training, our learning products aren’t “just translated.” We select translation partners that truly understand our business, understand our customers, and take ownership of the products we localize for our markets. Our job is not to just teach you, but to engage the customer in a way that encourages them to learn, encourages them to be successful, and, ultimately, puts them in a position to gain certification. Our content is diverse and covers a wide variety of ages: GetIT STEM programs for 11- and 12-year-old middle school students, SPARK courses for high schools, Academy courses for university students, re/Start for the unemployed/underemployed, and our adult digital and instructor-led training. We work to ensure that our content is localized in a way that engages those audiences in tone and terminology. We adopt AI technologies such as neural synthetic voices to not only reduce cost but to use those voices to further engage with our students.
We also ensure that we balance capacity amongst our service providers, leveraging their strengths, and ensuring they are true partners in our processes.
What are some of the most important areas at AWS where localization vendors fit into the process?
For my team, we banned the term “vendors” as we need partners for us to be successful. Our localization service partners (LSPs) are invested in our success. We collaborate and listen to our LSPs as the experts in the localization process and encourage innovation. Our partners have the ability to bring in teams of experts, at scale, from translators to editors, proofreaders to content editors. From multimedia specialists to studio sound engineers, and elearning SMEs to DTP, they are integral to everything we do. We ensure our partners understand our processes internally and they are open about their processes externally so that we can jointly solve any issue that may come along.
Given that relationship, how can localization partners, to use your team’s terms, tailor their service offerings to be more attractive to big vendors like Microsoft, AWS, or others? Does AI stand to change this in any way?
This has been said by many and will continue to be the mantra: understand our business and who you serve. For us, it’s the customer who takes our courses. Have the right team in place and continue to evaluate and innovate. For our current LSPs, for instance, we have a permanent solutions architect who is constantly looking at ways to adapt and innovate to keep up with us. And in today’s world, AI and ML are the future, and we need to find ways to adopt this new breed of technology to further engage our customers, reduce costs and time to market, and get us ready for the next generation of technology. As a company, we are providing the building blocks for any LSP to be successful with AWS technologies, and many of the tools our partners use are built on those technologies. With the release of Amazon Bedrock, we look forward to seeing what our partners can provide.
Speaking of AI, it’s certainly the talk of the industry right now. Could you share your opinion about how you believe it will develop over the next several years? What will that human/AI relationship look like?
I’m excited about the evolving world of AI, as I think it’s on a fast trajectory. In localization, I think it will have a tremendous impact on content creation and synthetic voice technology, and it will touch every aspect of life. I think we will have higher quality as machine learning improves and as more products are built on AI. But we will still need human aspects to what we do and what we produce. It’s still me speaking to Alexa with my non-AI brain, and it’s still me that needs to understand the output. With the development of LLM, the role of the localization content editor, for instance, will become more important.
I also want to say, though, that language constantly evolves at a human level, and humans will always be an integral part of localization.
Unconference, a special LocWorld event, is a side project particularly near and dear to your heart. Can you tell us a little about that, how it originated, and what you’d like to see in the future?
I joined the Unconference in the San Francisco Bay area to fill in for a former co-worker who lived overseas back in 2009. The localization Unconference was subsequently invited to be a conference inside a conference at LocWorld and has now become a popular tract of all-day mini-sessions to discuss virtually any topic in localization.
What makes this conference unique is that it’s a gathering of localization peers who aren’t in a room to compete, to sell, but to listen and jointly help problems solve virtually any challenge. With all levels and fields of localization, it’s a unique space that encourages everyone to have a voice at the table.
Now that the pandemic is on the way out the door, I’d like to see more of these gatherings globally (they have been held in San Francisco, Dublin, Toronto, Berlin, Seattle, San Diego, and Boston). As a free conference, we eliminate the cost barriers some companies have in allowing people to attend.