Quality Control, Part I

A short, multi-part play about test translations. Please silence all cell phones and pagers and no flash photography. The show begins right now.

Act One

Scene One

An anonymous office in Sacramento in April of 2010. A large window is mostly obstructed by an ancient Magnolia tree that allows only a fraction of the light from a magnificently sunny spring day to penetrate the office. Inside there are two large desks, the one we care about is supporting a 17″ flat-screen monitor framed with yellow and blue post-its of varying size with everything from inspirational messages to step by step instructions to reinstall the Trados template in the startup folder in case the toolbar ceases to appear, again. Right next to the ergonomic keyboard–that undoubtedly has the user name and password on a post-it underneath–sits a Logitech wireless mouse. Not surprisingly, the left button is a bit worn and a little sticky due to the high instance of “quick, at-desk lunches” it has weathered; yesterday the cafe downstairs had curry rice, information to which the mouse was indeed privy.

In and around the hardware, the normal office detritus is found: zip drives, pens, legal pads, cell phones, calculators, a framed picture of a cat, the office phone, books, a stapler, Chapstick, lipstick, chopsticks, napkins, headphones and paperclips. Off to the side there is a big desk calendar covered in post-its and handwritten notes; phone numbers, emails, language combinations, dentist appointments, project numbers, PO numbers, to dos for the day, week, month, meetings, client lunch dates, kick-off dates, due dates–but sadly–no personal dates. The calendar bears reminders that were furiously scratched in pencil, pen, sharpie and highlighter. Coffee rings resemble evil Venn diagrams whose circles encapsulate “Stress”, “Toil” and “Pressure” and whose dark, stained, middle over-lapping region represents  Linda’s void: an in-country, English into Bulgarian translator who specializes in quantum computing and is willing to work for…cheap.

The normal office drone of computers and water-cooler chitchat is punctuated by phones ringing and the booming voice of Bill Stevens, manager, 43 years old. Our heroine Linda, 26, has been a project manager for 9 months at Qualitrans and is about to be given a project into 14 languages for Qualitrans’s biggest client, Compuloq. Linda is answering emails and jotting notes down while trying to eat a bagel. Her office mate, Tommy, clacks away noisily at his keyboard and chuckles to himself as he reads a chain joke email.

(The intercom squawks, “Linda!”)

LINDA: Yes, Mr. Stevens?…Yes? Hello? Can you hear me?

(Linda sighs and finishes the email, stuffs a bite of bagel into her mouth and makes her way to Stevens’s office)

STEVENS: (On the phone) Yes, Mr. Jones, all of our translators have been tested and are in country, yes. That is what you are paying for, sir. Quality. Yes, yes, very good. Your project manager for this job will be in contact with you shortly, yes, yes, very good. Great, thanks, uh-huh, fantastic, thanks again, talk to you later, OK…bye. (Hangs up)

LINDA: You called me, sir?

STEVENS: Linda! Yes, you made it, great, look I just got off the phone with Mr. Jones. You need to contact him right away regarding your new project.

LINDA: What new project? I don’t know a Mr.  Jones….

STEVENS: Mr. Jones is our contact at Compuloq and we just got the manuals for their new quantum encryption software, and YOU are managing this project. Fourteen languages, Mongolian, Sanskrit, Navajo…well it’s all in the work order that should be in your inbox. Kick-off meeting tomorrow morning at 10am sharp, we CANNOT mess this up.

LINDA: …OK…I, uh, haven’t ever done a project this big, are you sure you want me to do it solo? I mean, shouldn’t I, er… maybe, uh, Debbie–

STEVENS: Debbie is up to her eyeballs with that RFP from Microsoft. You’re doing it but she’ll be in the meeting tomorrow, you can pick her brain a bit then about vendors. Now, I have to make some phone calls, call me if you need something.

(Back in her office, breathing slowly and fixated at the rays of sunshine coming in through the tree that fall just short of her desk, she gathers the courage to read the email)

LINDA: Albanian!?! Azerbaijani!?! What?!?! Who ARE these people?!? Quantum encryption software? The files are 200 megabytes each? Must have at least 3 years experience in the quantum computing field?
(Reading to herself in a hushed but exasperated voice)

…Georgian, Javanese, and Bengali, and as always, if you are using a new vendor, make sure they are tested before assigning work. Make sure to use a test that is suited to the subject matter. We want that ISO this year. You will find your budget below and for this project there really is no wiggle room so get tough! But make sure the quality is superb. See you tomorrow at 10.

–Bill Stevens, Boss

LINDA: Tommy, hey. Do you have any technical Bulgarian translators?

TOMMY: How technical?

LINDA: Incredibly?

TOMMY: Nope. Just Grigor but he does legal stuff. I think he’s out of town until May….

LINDA: Sweet. Hey, do we have any tests for quantum computing?

TOMMY: Quantum what? You remember that show Quantum Leap? I wonder what Scott Bakula is doing these days…they’ll probably make a remake soon. Jeesh, hey, did that curry treat you OK yesterday? I spent all night on the–

LINDA: (Covering her ears) LALALALALA!!! Dude, TMI. I just need some help with this project, what am I going to  do to test these translators?

TOMMY: Just send them the test we always send out, you know, the one about paint.

LINDA: (Sighs) I already have 12 other projects open, 3 of which are due today, 2 tomorrow and I am supposed to manage a project on quantum computing? Who is going to grade the tests? Wait, did you say paint? This project is for Compuloq, they make SOFTWARE. I hardly think a test on paint is going to accurately convey the ability of a translator for this project. I got my degree in French and Linguistics, what the hell do I know about encryption software? How the hell am I going to test for this?

TOMMY: Just read some of the text and pull a few hundred words from there. Then get someone to translate it for free and then someone to edit and critique it for free. I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

(Linda eats the rest of her bagel and finishes her now-cold coffee)

LINDA: Do you think I can get away with a 1000-word test?

TOMMY: Not in a million years, but you should try.

Continue to Part II here———>



  1. Pingback: Quality Control, part II | roughly translated

  2. Pingback: Quality Control, part III | roughly translated

  3. Pingback: A play about localization project management? Yes! « mprada

  4. Gerardo Albatros

    I remember Quantum Leap, too. And bravo for the play! Please keep ’em coming.

  5. Pingback: Quality Control, part IV « roughly translated

  6. Pingback: Quality Control, Part V « roughly translated

  7. Pingback: Quality Control, Part VI « roughly translated

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