Featured image: Akorbi CEO Claudia Mirza presents to Localization and Translation students at UTA, 2017
Founded in 1895, UTA is a research university with a total undergraduate enrollment of over 60,000 students. As the second-largest institution in the University of Texas system, UTA started offering courses in localization almost 20 years ago, well before the industry had a known name. But the real localization magic started happening just over a decade ago when the Department of Modern Languages established an official academic program dedicated to localization. The program currently holds 130 students and offers a robust introduction to localization.
Department of Modern Languages faculty member, Dr. Pete Smith, has been instrumental in the creation of the localization program which officially opened its doors to students in 2007. Veteran professor, Mr. Blake Carpenter, also plays a fundamental role as one of the program’s main instructors and facilitators. Although both individuals are charged with many responsibilities, Dr. Smith acts as the program head, and Mr. Carpenter runs classes specializing in CAT-tools.
Within the localization program, students have the opportunity to earn a localization certificate, a minor in localization, and even a minor in localization and translation with a dual language option.
Comprised of 5 courses referred to as GILT (Globalization, Internationalization, Localization, and Translation), the localization certificate track brings the industry to the classroom. The first course provides a brief introduction to translation theory, but then moves swiftly into software internationalization, localization, and industry training.
Leaders from a wide variety of localization settings showcase the industry with guest speaking engagements. CFOs, experts in machine translation, project managers, localization engineers, and many more industry experts talk to the students about the challenges and exciting developments in the language services field, and engage the students in meaningful discussions.
The second course focuses on technology, and more specifically, machine translation. With an established partnership with KantanMT, students learn to build, benchmark, and work with KantanMT engines. The course also delves into an introduction to Python, as well as hands-on CAT-tool training.
Currently, the course uses Memsource, but they have worked with both SDL and XTM in the past. The program ensures that students also have the opportunity to earn additional certifications when they are offered through various companies. One such certification is the TAUS post-editing certification. KantanMT is also working toward offering a certification which they hope to have available to students in the near future.
Starting in the spring of 2018, the program introduced a minor in localization. The 60 students currently pursuing the minor already have a foundation in any one or more of the following languages in addition to English:
“MIIS and UTA have a synergistic relationship… Arlington GILT students are thrilled to know they can take their undergrad studies to the graduate level. I appreciate collaborating with Pete and Blake regarding the curriculum, how we handle internships, and how we ensure opportunities for our graduates. In many ways, we’re all in this together!“ M. Troyer
Three years ago, UTA teamed up with the Middlebury Institute of of International Studies (MIIS). Students who complete the localization program from UTA now have the opportunity to apply to graduate school at MIIS. With dedicated scholarships in place, this connection has been a success with graduates moving on to MIIS every year, for the past 3 years.
Once a semester, Max Troyer, Program Chair and Associate Professor for the Translation and Localization Management (TLM) program at MIIS, is a guest speaker during one of the GILT courses and presents the Translation and Localization Management program offered at MIIS.
Contrary to popular belief, the localization program at UTA is anything but traditional. Teaching faculty attend annual language industry conferences, including TAUS, GALA, and LocWorld. Both Dr. Smith and Mr. Carpenter also participate in the bi-annual conference at MIIS.
The localization program regularly introduces webinars and recorded material from industry leaders, and as Dr. Smith puts it, the program is keen on “vacuuming up all relevant content.” In fact, UTA has welcomed highly-respected virtual guest speakers from a wide variety of LSPs and professional organizations. Jaap van der Meer, TAUS founder and director, is one such guest who has been a regular presenter. Dr. Smith often takes what he learns from both the guest speakers and from various conferences and applies this to the localization program. Perhaps the best example is with KantanMT. In previous years, the program did not teach KantanMT, but it has now become a critical part of the curriculum thanks in large part to the 2014 annual TAUS event.
While searching for a platform to introduce localization students to MT, Dr. Smith met Tony O’Dowd, KantanMT’s CEO and Chief Architect. Mr. O’Dowd’s supportive response to student learning, coupled with his announcement of KantanMT’s educational and certification plans solidified UTA’s adoption of KantanMT.
Although the localization program at UTA continues to work with local businesses and is currently developing a partnership with SDL to introduce project management, the program’s largest partnership to date is with Akorbi. Several years ago, Dr. Smith and Akorbi owner, Claudia Mirza, began collaborating. Discussions eventually led to student internships, employment, career-growth lectures, and guest speaking engagements. Akorbi is often on campus, and is actively engaged in student development as they work their way through the localization path.
Mrs. Mirza knows firsthand how difficult it is to find trained, specialized talent for an industry that is constantly evolving. By partnering with UTA, Mrs. Mirza offers invaluable industry insights to students, encouraging them to think on a “macro level”, and preparing them for industry expectations. A regular on campus, Mrs. Mirza is actively involved in Career Days and offers several lectures each year (watch for her upcoming speaking engagement in the spring of 2019). She has also attended several industry events with Dr. Smith so that together, they can encourage other industry leaders to embark on similar partnerships.
Working in a global industry also means working hours outside of one’s time zone and adhering to strict deadlines. Mrs. Mirza feels that Dr. Smith is one of the very few at the university level who is in-tune to these industry demands, especially when it comes to data manipulation. With a specialization in data analytics, Dr. Smith offers students a well-rounded approach to working with machine translation engines. Just last year, the program added coding and natural language processing (NLP) with Python, as well as data analytics for artificial intelligence. Dr. Smith realizes that the students may not be graduating as expert coders, but he feels that his program is certainly setting the stage.
“Every class provided in this course has been a great benefit into my career as a Project Coordinator… the field of localization is boundless, and it is growing every day.”
Since the partnership’s first year, Akorbi has taken on nearly a half dozen UTA internships. Students spend a great deal of time at Akorbi learning more about industry demands and putting their newly-acquired skills to the test. Mrs. Mirza doesn’t worry too much about the student’s lack of experience because as she puts it, “we knew they were from Pete’s program so we brought them on.”
Alisha Adams is one such intern who now works full-time at Akorbi as a Project Coordinator. Dr. Smith put her in touch with Akorbi which led to an internship, and eventually a full-time position. Ms. Adams credits the skills she acquired at UTA to her ability to interact directly with one of Akorbi’s main clients and expertly handle fast-paced, short-turnaround requests:
“Every class provided in the course has been a great benefit into my career as a Project Coordinator from studying how to conduct international teams to working with translation memories. I learned the basics of project management before I entered the industry, and when I started conducting my projects, I did not feel overwhelmed.”
Ms. Adams graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2017, having achieved a bachelor’s degree in Critical Languages and International Studies in German, with a minor in Spanish. Ms. Adams credits both Dr. Smith and Mr. Carpenter as being instrumental in her access to machine translation engines which served as an introduction into the localization process. The program walked the students through obtaining corpora, developing their engines, running the corpora through the TM engine, and then reviewing the results. Ms. Adams also took full advantage of the opportunity to work toward and receive the post-editing certification course created by TAUS and SDL.
Having directly benefited from the Akorbi-UTA connection, Ms. Adams encourages this and similar projects to continue:
“There is a special partnership between Dr. Smith and Claudia… they are working together to give prospective students a chance by working at Akorbi.”
Ms. Adams would love to see these partnerships grow and flourish with larger, more diverse career fairs, additional speaking engagements, and more resources.
Akorbi has secured large interpretation contracts in various states and is actively helping to place talented individuals in a variety of companies. Akorbi’s recruiters work directly with a pool of talented students at UTA to hopefully make this happen. Akorbi values the high-level of skill and talent that UTA cultivates, and opens up opportunities for their students in various fields within the language services industry. UTA students who formally intern typically work in project management or project coordination roles, as well as in vendor management on the buyer side.
As the industry faces shortages (and has for years) in project management talent, university localization programs are putting out strong candidates. Most LSPs are hiring more generalized PM talent and then providing internal training in localization practices. This hasn’t been lost to UTA. Every year, the localization faculty interacts with dozens of companies on the buyer and seller side for information exchange, the sharing of hiring leads, guest speaking engagements, internship opportunities and more.
In many ways, UTA students represent a microcosm of our collective global identity, and as such, are in a prime position to understand these challenges and diverse needs within the language services industry.
The localization program attracts advanced majors who are typically fluent in a minimum of 2 languages. And while an estimated 20 percent of the certificate/minor students have a career directly in “the industry” within one year of graduation, many students combine their localization studies with majors in other academic areas such as international business and communications. 74 percent of these graduates find placement within one year of graduation where tracking is available. One particular student even landed a position within a local defense operation and built a localization department from the ground up.
Both the localization program and the Center for Career Development on campus assist with job search and placement skills. From internships to shared hours of expertise, from students tours, to career advice, it’s all about connecting to the upcoming pool of talent. With every guest lecture, students are motivated and encouraged to excel.
Some guest speakers also happen to be UTA alumni who work on both the buyer and vendor side. They speak to students about how their multilingual and multicultural skills work to advance their careers. One such alumnus, Kathleen Bostick, who works as the American Vice President for SDL, has spent time on campus engaging in information exchange with faculty members and students.
Dr. Smith has spoken for years on numerous industry conference panels, workshops, and presentations that focus on “talent shortage” and the “disconnect” between universities and the industry. He has stressed that the universities that teach localization for credit (admittedly only a few in the United States) are putting out students who are not only well prepared to enter the workforce, but are eagerly sought after by the industry. And although LSPs in general have been sometimes slower to forge relationships with universities, the industry as a whole is maturing and is starting to take notice.
There is definitely work ahead with regard to industry advocacy. It’s not enough to advocate on the corporate/enterprise side. Dr. Smith stresses the importance of setting the localization sector apart from other career choices that students might pursue. Potential talent to the localization field is often drawn away to other areas that have clearer career pathways and broader potential. As Dr. Smith puts it, “we have to begin to think like a talented student considering our field, and we have to ask, ‘What is the true career path [and] what are the opportunities for growth and career change in the localization field over a career arc of 20, 30, or 40 years?’”
“The entire industry benefits with more localization programs both at the undergraduate and the graduate levels.“ M. Troyer
The localization program at UTA is delighted to work with their current partner organizations, with Akorbi leading the way. It is in large part to these partnerships that more and more organizations are beginning to see the value that universities add to the talent pool and to research pipelines. Continuing to develop these partnerships will help universities to in turn help students move to the next level. As Mr. Troyer puts it, “the entire industry benefits with more localization programs both at the undergraduate and the graduate levels.”
When industry leaders get involved at the university level, they have the ability to provide guidance that not only advances the curriculum, but advances the industry as a whole. So, where – and with whom – do you want to forge your next partnership?
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