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The role of the translator in the age of technology and Agile Localization in video games - my key-take aways of the a nice SATT 2019 event

The role of the translator in the age of technology and Agile Localization in video games - my key-take aways of the a nice SATT 2019 event

Last week I had the pleasure of being invited to the SATT 2019 conference at the IULM of Milan (Università di Lingue e Comunicazione a Milano) to give a presentation on the Multimedia Technology solutions track with the title Are you ready for video games Agile Localisation?

In this presentation, in addition to explaining the basic concepts about Agile Localization, I also took the opportunity to give certain clues and analyze possibilities about the different job opportunities for translation students.

SATT 2019 has already been running for several editions, I personally did not know it, but the truth is that I have been delighted by both, the organization and the program.

A nice mix of students, industry professionals, and service providers made a very interesting program about the profile of the translator in the age of technology. There were lectures, demos, use case presentations, and panel discussions; and on top of that, on the second day, six practical courses about different topics such as terminology for translators, search engine optimization (SEO) for translators and transcreation.

There were statements during these days that resonated strongly in my head.

My favorite

We believe that humans make the difference.
We believe that language is the most human thing out there.
That technology is there to help us to perform to our best, to increase our capacity.
It’s a win/win game. For people, for the company, for society
— translated.com

I divided my presentation Are you ready for video games Agile Localisation? in 3 main areas which I summarised below

  1. Is there a future for language professionals in a fast-paced highly automated world?

We are living in a world-changing super-fast, quite often I come across articles or casual conversations that it’s predicted that somehow the language industry will be automated, and most of the roles will disappear. There seems to be a lot of noise about how translators will become redundant due to MT. I believe this industry somehow has been always a little bit paranoid around how to adopt the technology. I’ve been working in the Localization field for 24 years by now, that’s a long time, and looking back I can see a pattern. Back to the past when I was working in Microsoft in the year 1995 in Dublin as a Spanish Linguistic tester, I remember many colleagues were somehow afraid of the CAT tools. In the end, CAT tools were integrated as part of the localization framework and we moved forward. Something similar happened in the decade of 2000 when translation memories became super popular; again there was fear about the impact of this automation, but now it’s impossible to imagine our industry without using TM. Nowadays with MT, NMT, AI, I have a kind of deja-vu. Personally, I think with Machine translation will be the same. We will adapt. We will use MT as another tool, we will integrate it in the translation workflow. As we did with MT or CAT tools in the past. The reality is that our industry is quite solid. We tend to think the role of the translator will disappear. That the translation industry will be disrupted. I don’t think so; despite of all this historical trends the reality is that our industry is quite solid. 


 Above graphic represents the market size of language services in the last decade. What this report shows, it is that this is one of the few industries that it’s growing constantly. In fact, during the financial crisis (between2008-2012), it grew! If we think about it, it makes sense. If we are operating in a domestic country, and our domestic market collapses, then we need to sell our products somewhere else, and to do that, Localization is absolutely necessary. Our industry grew when things globally were tough, and forecast for the next years is also optimistic!

 For the last 12 years, I've been working in gaming. And in the gaming industry, we can also find a similar pattern. Video games are the number 1 entertainment industry nowadays, more than movies+music market size together. For this reason, when we combine the growth of Localization industry + the promising future of the gaming industry I come with the conclusion that the future awaits many opportunities for skilled localization professionals. And the word skilled here is key because we need to master some skills to stay relevant as Localization professionals.

2. Which are the Skills that we might polish to stay relevant as a Localization professional in the Machine Translation/AI era.

 One important skills to get familiar to stay relevant is getting good at understanding the Agile Framework. Nowadays software is developed in most of the mobile companies by using Agile methodologies.

Agile methodology is based on 4 values and 12 guiding principles. 


In the Agile framework, the main goal is to deliver business value. Maybe to understand better the value of Agile I can use this metaphor from below picture


 Agile is about making software with little improvements over time, little by little our app, our game, whatever piece of software we are creating it is getting better, it's delivering business value and solving a client need. Agile is changing the way many companies are working, it's changing mindsets; in the past, in the waterfall model, we might be working for months, or even for years to release a product. That’s a risky approach as we had to wait a long time to get customer feedback. 

What if we are working for 2 years in a product and when we release it somehow we are not solving a client need?

That's a risky position to be! that does not happen in the Agile framework.  We deliver features very frequent, we get customer feedback very frequent, and we can adapt our strategy to cover client needs.

In Agile Localization, Globalization teams need to adapt to sprints. Sprint is the most basic iteration of the Agile process. Essentially, a Sprint is a time-boxed period– usually 2-4 weeks long– where a specific objective must be reached. The goal is to have a deliverable product. Development teams have sprints cycles of 2 weeks, however, the time we have to execute the Agile Localization phase in our case is 48 hours. By being able to deliver translated text in 2 days we can we can ship a new version, new levels, new contents of our games every 2 weeks. There are 4 phases we have to go through in Agile localization. 

The first step in this Agile framework is the design phase. In this phase, the focus is on establishing a schedule of activities that the team should execute during Sprint period. This phase is all about understanding what we want to build. Sprint Planning answers the following questions: What can be delivered and how we are going to do it

Content. This is the phase where the context that we see in the screen in our mobiles is created, this is the creation phase, the proofreading phase, different linguistic checks happen here to ensure that the content is top-notch in the source language, usually  English.

Another important task that needs to happen here is that the instructions for the translator are created; instructions can take different shapes and familiarizations kits might have multiple formats, but my recommendation is that the minimum we include it's the language style guide where we specify the translation tone of voice of our content, or how to deal with time, dates, currency, fonts ... basically we give guidance to the translators so they are well equipped to start translation in the next phase, which is the ….

Localization, in this phase, we take care of adapting the content to a specific market. The translation is only one of the several elements of the localization process. Localization is much more complex than swap words from one language to another, we need to take into consideration aspects such as

  • Adapting graphics to a target market

  • Modifying content to suit the culture of other markets

  • Or adapt currencies just to name a few

This phase is a crucial step during the Agile Localization framework. During this phase, we work to prepare our apps to become, hopefully, a global blockbuster :)

Localization testing in Agile is very important. This is the last phase and It shouldn’t be disregarded even if we are struggling to meet release date. Quite often there’s a temptation to cut corners and approach testing as a nice to have phase (if we have time …) but it’s a crucial phase in the software development process. We should not skip it. Unlike translators, who mostly work with text which is isolated from the rest of the user interface, localization QA testers are the very first people to see the localized product altogether.

3. Possible Career paths for Localization Professionals

 Translators or anyone interested in the language industry can take multiple paths, no path is necessarily better than others, they are just different! If we like languages and translation there’s a role for us working as a language specialist, terminologist, translator ….

if we like technology and we like trying different solution we’ll love working as i18n or LQA specialist, but also this industry will provide us the opportunity if we decide to pursue a leadership career, there are different possibilities. 

In this graph I represented the 4 paths we can pursue + summary of the Localization roles involved in the different Agile Localization phases


Before finishing this post I want to mention 3 skills that I believe it creates a huge impact; these are skills that are transforming individuals who own them in very employable and valuable assets for any organization.

  • The first one of these horizontal skills is public speaking – Professor Conor Neill brilliantly summaries that “Nothing brings more opportunities into your life than speaking well in public”, I cannot agree more. We are continuously speaking in front of an audience. Public speaking is not only what we do when we are in a conference to deliver a  talk, in fact every time we are in a meeting or interacting with someone we are doing public speaking. How to start building our public speaking skills?? I always answer the same … Just go as a guest for a couple of sessions to your closest Toastmaster club

  • The second of the skills worth it to master is data analytics. It’s said that data is the petrol of this century, that those who can understand and decode data will shine in the next years. I agree with those saying that being able to understand data is important but I would add also that the ability to explain data using stories is very effective. Human beings love stories, for this reason, the best way to connect with our stakeholders is to combine the discipline of data analytics with storytelling

  • And the last one is cultural intelligence.  Cultural Intelligence is not the same as Emotional Intelligence, CQ goes one step further. EQ is all about how I build empathy with individuals, but CQ is how to be able to operate successfully with multiple individuals simultaneously in different territories from different cultural backgrounds. CQ is a fascinating topic and I encourage you to read some resources from listed in the Appendix to get more familiar with that skill   Check out here my eBook about Cultural Intelligence based on the Localization World presentation delivered last year

 I believe that the future awaits many opportunities for skilled Localization professionals, but to shine in this fast new world we are living become lifelong learning student and be ready to invest time to improve incrementally our skills will be crucial.

Have a great week and below some glimpses from beautiful Milano!

Continuos Localization -   changing people's mindsets - Best practices and benefits!

Continuos Localization - changing people's mindsets - Best practices and benefits!

  One size does not fit all. How to adapt your localization strategy depending on the game genre

One size does not fit all. How to adapt your localization strategy depending on the game genre