Four Project Managers shed light on their careers, challenges, and futures

Published on 16.09.2020

A few years ago, I was walking around the ballroom at the Welcome Celebration on the first night of the ATA Annual Conference alongside one of my Project Manager colleagues. As we made our way around the tables of all the different ATA divisions, we asked each other, “Where’s the table for the PMs?” This set the stage for a group within ATA for PMs to meet one another and to network, and it took the form of a Special Interest Group within the Translation Company Division.

Translation and localization project management has emerged as a profession in its own right, and careers in this field can be as varied as the translations we manage. In the ensuing years since that Welcome Celebration, I have continued to meet fellow PMs whose skills, responsibilities, and challenges were so interesting and varied, it sometimes
seemed that we weren’t even in the same profession. PMs don’t often have opportunities to meet other PMs outside their own company or their specific industry sector, yet we all can benefit from learning about the career paths and aspirations of others who share our line of work.

In an effort to highlight a few PM careers and come to a deeper understanding of our role in translation companies and other language service providers, I interviewed four professional Project Managers in the translation / localization field about what their jobs look like, how they got into the business, what they do for professional development, and where they hope this career will lead. These four PMs work for companies ranging from small to very large, and in that order, their profiles are presented here.

Profile 1:

Our first PM (PM1) works for a small, women-owned translation company that employs a few freelance PMs on an as-needed basis. She and her sister run the business and handle most of their clients’ requests. PM1 studied translation in college and her professional work as a translator led to job opportunities as a translation Project Manager. The experience and insight she gained in her advancing career as a PM made her realize that she wanted to manage her own translation company.

As part of her daily work, PM1 manages the entire life cycle of translation projects from initial client contact to delivery. This includes obtaining all necessary information from the client, understanding their requirements, making a quote, planning, outsourcing, managing the workflow, and preparing deliverables and invoices. PM1 stays active in the translation industry and works with professional organizations. “Professional development is key in this industry, which is why I always take time to attend events, training sessions, webinars, [and] conferences.” She sponsors and organizes events on behalf of her company, giving her access to resources and training/ networking opportunities. She also translates as part of her daily work, having obtained the education, experience, and certifications that have prepared her to work both as a Translator and a Project Manager.

PM1 sees her career in the translation / localization industry as her true calling, and she has found a good balance between her work as a linguist and as a PM as she continues to grow her company.

Profile 2:

The second PM works for a small to medium-sized language service company, currently with three staff PMs but looking to add more. PM2 came to this career with a background in IT, project management, and engineering. He had extensive experience prior to working in the language industry, and noted, “Every position I held and academic course I took has been helpful at some point, including 30 years of military experience.”
While PM2 is responsible for sales and marketing, quality control, and IT support, he also assists with reviews, and his company has a proprietary TMS that he is always working to improve. Much of his company’s work deals with environmental, health, and safety regulations, so knowing which regulations to use as references and making those available in the translation memories and termbases to assist other reviewers is a key part of his job.

PM2 keeps on the top of new technology through webinars and web-based research. In the future, he hopes to shift to more of an advisory or consulting role in his job. In his company, a new PM can seek the opportunity to attain a Senior PM designation, typically around the five-year mark. From there, the option exists to become a member of the executive staff at the company in a director role.

Profile 3:

The third PM owns and operates a multi-language vendor with 25 in-house translation/ localization managers on staff. He began his career as a freelance translator in the mid-1990s and then worked for several years as an English-language abstractor. As owner of his company, PM3’s daily work involves leading the multiple units of his business and guiding them strategically through their operations. He signs checks, works closely with his accounting department, and strives to run a tight ship. He also recognizes that he holds the primary responsibility in his company for customer satisfaction and for ensuring the wellbeing of all his employees. PM3 also translates as part of his job, and he thinks of himself first as a translator. “I’ve been translating for 25 years, and while we have teams of linguists handling our projects for us, I still see to it that I translate at least some of our projects.” He keeps up on industry trends through extensive online research and through collaboration with his coworkers.

When asked about his career plans down the road, PM3 replied: “As the business owner it might be more proper to answer this with a view towards our plans for our own PMs.” He hopes that in five to ten years, his PMs would be properly credentialled, highly trained, and self-sufficient decision makers who go beyond simply managing projects to running the “front-facing” operations of the company at a granular level. “I see [PMs] as accomplished analysts of situations, making the most of current circumstances to come up with results that will benefit all stakeholders.”

Profile 4:

Our fourth PM works for a large LSP that employs about 350 Service / Project Managers. She started her career prepared with an education in language, literature, and political studies as well as experience as a professional translator. While she no longer works as a PM, her initial PM work developed into a career in the language / globalization industry spanning more than thirty years. When she worked as a PM, her daily tasks would include CAT tool prep, file analysis, quotes, scheduling, and communication with the project team. She would keep up with the latest technology by reading industry news and publications. Her company would also conduct trainings and “lunch & learns”. Her conversations with colleagues and her general curiosity also have helped in her development. PM3’s career trajectory went from PM and Account Manager to Globalization Consultant, and she now holds the title of Director of Tools and Technology Support.

Summary

I questioned all four PMs about burnout, and they all were in agreement that it is a common concern in this industry. Causes mentioned included inefficient time management, wearing too many hats, and the constant pressure to meet deadlines and exceed client expectations. One PM spoke about his company’s success in dealing with burnout through the fostering of a culture of “collaborative pace-setting,” an approach that allowed his team to be more flexible with the tactics they were using to achieve their goals. Another PM’s advice for avoiding burnout was “knowing when to let go and making sure to always keep a healthy perspective.” Another PM mentioned the value of rotating roles and allowing staff to perform different functions whenever possible. “Training someone outside their initial role builds their confidence and keeps the job fresh.” Personal self-care is also an important skill to build in order to be more proficient and more productive professionals.

Are you a translator who has also worked as a Project Manager? Are you interested in networking with other Project Managers in the translation / localization industry and with the ATA? Come meet fellow PMs and share your stories with us at the Translation Company Division meeting at #ATA61.

About the author:

TCD LC Ray Valido

Ray Valido (he/him/his) is the Coordinator of the Project Manager Special Interest Group within ATA’s Translation Company Division. He is a Translation Project Manager at the Office of Language Services at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., and is in charge of the office’s multilingual desktop publishing (DTP) program. Ray holds an MA in Translation and Localization Management (Spanish) from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Contact: [email protected]