The IN-dustry

Hi. I’m sorry if I feel like I have to reintroduce myself. Actually, no, I’m not sorry. Just it’s unfortunate that my time has been spent elsewhere than here. Where have I been? At work, namely. If you recall, I changed jobs a while back, a year back—well, a year and a bit back. I am a translator* again. And it feels good!

Story time.

During my time as a technical writer, I cultivated a new skill set and created documentation that I was quite proud of. I was still able to be pedantic about writers’ things (comma usage, dash length, capitalization norms) and I learned a whole host of things technical writers are specifically pedantic about (single sourcing, topic-based authoring, CSS design). Yet, even after five years, I never really felt like I was a part of the industry. I went to some industry events, talked shop with other lifer tech writers, learned the tools of trade, but never did I connect with the industry. Despite my time between the margins, I never shook the sensation of being an outsider.

I did stay close to the translation industry as half of my job was to be a client-side project manager for the translations of the user manuals and other documentation I was writing. And, funnily enough, I never felt, during that time, that I wasn’t translating. I was simply translating from engineer speak to lay person. Taking garbled notes, over-wrought explanations to create IEC-compliant user documentation.

“So, you see this here. Apply a bit of pressure on this rubberized hemisphere protruding from the frame until it clicks and that sets in motion a whole cascade of events, namely, allowing exactly 3V through this transistor which then tells the circuit to run the initialization steps. At this point the setup application fires up and the self calibration and diagnostics run automatically. In 10-15 seconds the machine is ready to use.”

“So, that’s the on button.”

“Well. Yeah, but it does a lot more, did you just hear what I said it did? I can repeat it.”

“No, no. I got it all.” Writes down ‘on button’ slowly without breaking eye contact.

When the opportunity arose to go back to translation (which was nice since the other tech writer jobs did not want me) I was ecstatic. The interviews went well, the tests went well. The commute is good, the team is good. A new language combination, a sector I’m familiar with and versed in (yay, finance and economy), albeit much deeper than I ever thought. I’m back.

And I’m back in.

I am not sure how one gets “in” to an industry; surely it changes from person to person, from circumstance to circumstance. Though, for me, it was the formative years in the master’s program when I was paying money be interested in a thing I had convinced myself I wanted to be interested in. Surrounded by like-minded souls, with whom I would eventually be working alongside, with and for, I found myself immersed in a ravenous, almost collegiately raucous Petri dish of industry ra-ra-ism. It was great and a great place to be and it was where I made up my mind to be a translator (as if I had a choice at that point). This great community of language nerds, pedantic and exacting, juggling their source languages, with their thumb-stained dictionaries and style guides of choice also contained the person who would become my wife. And laying plans as “we” made everything less daunting and more fun. She had way more experience in the translation industry and was studying conference interpreting. So my whole world involved discussions of the language industry with language industry professionals and neophytes. And we emerged from our hazing Masters of Translation and of Interpreting, respectively. What power. What inflated expectations. What a journey.

That whole foundational experience, coupled with real-world experience working vendor side and then as a freelancer, really locked me into the industry. Plus back then, when I was younger, stupider, and more energetic, I was doing more with the industry. I started this blog in fact for the express purpose of getting my name out there, I was more active on Twitter and LinkedIn, I read more on translation, localization, globalization, internationalization, transcreation and terminology. That’s how I got in, but also, that’s an explanation of what kept me out of the technical writing industry to the extent that I was.

Being back is nice; I’m older now and have more experience and clout. I work for a large company which (ironically?) uses ancient software so my knowledge didn’t go obsolete while I was technically writing. Also, my wife, who never left the industry, has done a great job nurturing and growing her network. Re-entry after a few years in orbit has been quite a bit easier since I was able to revive my network and also tap into hers. Here in Zürich we’re active members of a thriving bigger-than-you-think localization industry. We participate in and organize industry events and we’re getting to know a growing number of local professionals. And you know what? It’s fun. Being a member of a community of people who do, have done or aspire to do what you’re doing is fun. The dull days at work may still be dull, but you know you can commiserate with others who will feel your pain at the next event, and these same people will also be those who celebrate your tiny victories with you.

It’s beyond the point where I can write “long story short” but here I am, writing about translation again—just like I was ten years ago. It has been a helluva ten years: one wedding, two cats, four countries, seven apartments, one new language, one child, three-ish jobs, and at least one gray hair. And it feels good. It’s also good to see you again.

*Translator who edits mostly, though we do get to translate the fun juicy stuff 😉.

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