People who rock the industry – Kevin Lossner

For this November 2012 piece, we interviewed Kevin Lossner, a very respected colleague with extensive experience and insights on translation technologies, workflow optimization, resource reviews and marketing strategies – and “Controversies and other topics” as he himself points out ;). Kevin Lossner was a chemist, a medical device materials developer and consultant, a software developer and a technology sales and systems consultant. He now applies this past experience for the translation of scientific and technical communications, technical marketing documents, patents and contracts and related disciplines.  His biography is pretty impressive – read more here.


Hi Kevin! So, who are you? What professional hats are you wearing?

Hard one to answer. I’ve been involved in so many things over the years that I’m lucky if I remember what I  did last week. It’s less important where one has been, I think, than where one is going. I’m an American expat living in Germany, with a lot of things regarding family, residence and culture subject to constant consideration and conflict. So I doubt I can even answer the part about where I’m going except to say I’ll get there.

What were the turning points in your career that got you where you are now?

The turning points? There are so many. I suppose one of the most important was the day in 1981 when I tried to find books on the Swabian dialect of German in Das Internationale Buch in Berlin. The attention that drew still affects my life and work. Or perhaps it was the realization one day at my corporate research job that I really did not want to work in a lab with an agenda set by someone else. I do as I like or try to.

You’re an influential translation blogger within the profession with your famous blog “Translation Tribulations“. Tell us a bit about the blog.

I started the blog in 2008 for two reasons. I grew tired of the deterioration of forum communication on ProZ and the emerging agenda of naked commercial interest and mediocrity over professionalism. Things reached a point where it was impossible to express an honest opinion without someone who barely understood English complaining about the use of metaphor and some puppet moderator with Stalinist sympathies making up RuleZ to justify strangling discussions. So I set up my own soapbox. It’s also a way to share information with clients and colleagues and avoid explaining the same solutions to recurring problems day after day to the point where sleep and work become rare luxuries.

I’m pretty low tech about the blog, though. The hosting with Google’s Blogger probably wasn’t the best choice, and the intricacies of RSS, mail subscriptions and many other things that other translation bloggers do are still mysteries to me. The time I spend is mostly writing, responding to comments and editing. A few hours a week maybe. Oh yes, and about 40 hours per week deleting Russian and Chinese spam comments.

Interoperability in translation – what are your views on it and how do you think it will develop over the next years?

I’ve seen a lot of improvement in the last decade for information exchange between tools. But we’re still not where the “real” world of IT was in many respects in the 1980s. The stubborn provincialism of many tool vendors does a lot of damage still and even limits those who hope to gain by it. Across is the worst offender I know of in this respect – their strategy of marketing incompatibility as a corporate asset disgusts me. Like the Hotel California of translation… arrival isn’t a problem, but checking out can be an issue. But I am encouraged by other developments I see among the serious providers on the market. I have high hopes for the Linport initiative (see linport.org), and I understand that SDL will adopt the Translation Interoperability Protocol Package (TIPP) – a package type for exchanging translation project data between tools – as soon as the specifications are finalized. I hope others follow suit. Some, such as Ontram, already appear to be there.

MT and crowdsourcing are two “hot” trends right now in our profession. What’s your take and opinion on each one of them?

I haven’t got much of an opinion on crowdsourcing, as it does not affect markets that interest me. It’s more of a tool for engaging customers in a market than a bludgeon to be used against translation professionals, and from the perspective of managing resources and quality, it’s probably more expensive than traditional commercial translation. But the payoff is involvement of the “user base”. I like to follow the Unprofessional Translation blog – it sometimes has interesting posts about crowdsourcing topics.

MT is the search for the linguistic Philosopher’s Stone and in many markets just as doomed. It’s the biggest scam since Y2K, based on shaky premises of a “content tsunami” from the hash pipe dreams of those hoping to make a buck off the suckers who engage with this profession every minute. It’s interesting to watch the incestuous circle of round robin quotation between the CSA, spawn of the CSA, TAUS and a select few pundits. The only tsunami here is one of disinformation and self-feeding propaganda. The few honest voices involved in MT discussions, who speak of the real value in limited domains, presenting honestly the risks and trade-offs – these are drowned out by the cries of carnival barkers yelling “Get on the MT boat or drown!” Don Wiggins may fancy himself a latter day Noah, but all he’s got in common with that venerable patriarch is a boat load of manure.

What’s your take on Social Media  from a professional/business standpoint?

Twitter is the new e-mail for me. More effective, takes less time and I deal with less spam. I’m deeply suspicious of Facebook and very close to pulling the plug on my profile and business page there because of ever-shifting policies, scams and data harvesting for phishing that is getting out of control. I avoid some the popular “business” platforms most of the time partly for lack of time, but in the case of XING also because I am tired of all the MLM spammers and networking for networking’s sake. If I spend the time to meet and chat with someone, it’s because I want to learn more about that person or his or her business, not because I want to collect damned business cards, real or virtual. Networks are for spiders. I prefer people.

You recently published a book about MemoQ 6 – and you are already working on its next version. Why MemoQ in particular and not another CAT-tool? 

Why memoQ? Well, this book project started out in 2006, perhaps before then, as one on interoperability between Trados and Déjà Vu, which were my main working tools at the time. But since 2000 I had become increasingly involved in challenges of collaboration between many different platforms, and the difficulties many users experience with complex tools for assisting their translation work increasingly became a burden on me. When I first encountered memoQ, I dismissed it rudely and continued to do so for nearly two years. I even dumped a high volume customer of mine because the guy kept begging me to use memoQ. But Kilgray has had one of the most rapid, effective arcs of tool development I’ve seen in four decades of experience with IT. memoQ is one of the most effective tools for collaboration between platforms that I’ve seen, and the learning curve is usually reasonable compared to the alternatives. Often other tools will do some useful thing that memoQ cannot – or do it better – but today memoQ is probably the most balanced tool I know. But often other software is needed for effective work, and a lot of my book is about that: working together with other tools like SDL Trados Studio, WordFast, OmegaT, etc.

What made you write this book?

The book is written as a series of short tutorials, most of them only 150 words or less plus screenshots. Many of the modules were written to answer questions from colleagues I support or direct clients and agencies for whom I consult. Some of it was published in one version or another on the blog, but a lot of material has never made it to publication before (and quite a bit remains that didn’t fit in the book). It’s all been “field tested” answering real, sometimes desperate questions and solving real problems. I used part of it again this morning about XLIFF exchange between memoQ  versions to sort out problems for a colleague working with an agency that bought memoQ but still doesn’t grasp how to use it best for outsourcing. Most of the time you just need a few words to sort things out and get people thinking, not long-winded chapters detailing features that are seldom relevant.

Now, what piece of advice would you give to someone starting in the industry?

Come back in 20 years when you’ve learned something and knock ‘em dead ;). Make sure you understand a subject or two you hope to translate, really understand them. Master them. Don’t think a “knowledge of languages” will get you very far these days, because mostly it won’t. You need business savvy and a lot of real subject expertise. You don’t get that in a translation studies program. Go be an engineer for a decade or two. Sell insurance. Practice a health care profession. Travel. Learn the real language of the people whose stuff you might have to translate some day. Guess what? That automotive engineer who writes the parts manual probably got a barely passing grade in German and mixes in a lot of dialect. Good luck with that if your background is Kent State translation studies and perhaps a junior year abroad. Then about the time you get tired of your chosen career or it just doesn’t go where you want to, experience some of the better parts of it again as a translator. Quereinsteiger as we call them in Germany. Most of the best are.

In your opinion, how does the future of our profession look like?

 What does the future of the profession look like? It depends on the lens you choose to view it through. That was the main topic of this year’s Translation Management conference in Warsaw. There were many futures presented there and rightly so. This profession will take you where you lead it if you’ve got a good professional foundation. If you look forward to a future of MT post-editing in Satanic mills lit by a monitor’s glow, it’s your right to immolate your brain in that way or any other that tickles your fancy. I think the real future will be decided by the training and opportunities for the next generation, and we really must stop gazing at our own navels and take that more seriously, not leave the field to Pied Pipers like the CSA and TAUS who will lead future linguists off into brown fields and drag them down into dullness.

Last but not least, what do you do in your free time to get away from the computer?

Free time? What’s that? I’m not sure where the line is between work and play. I enjoy my work, and my play is work usually. I’m out with the dogs, training them or doing a bit of hunting, tending my birds in the hen yard or dovecote or the tending the garden, cooking fruit preserves or… sleeping.

 Thanks a lot for your time, Kevin – and good luck with all your projects!

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20 thoughts on “People who rock the industry – Kevin Lossner

  1. Very balanced, aggressive and visionary views on what Kevin is into. I really want this to be shared with all translation cum localization professionals! Great reading and learning!

      • Yana, I think it’s a given that an intelligent, honest person who understands communication will take a look at most MT-generated output and tell you quite objectively that it sucks for safe, reliable communication of important information. In the case of the apologists, pundits and wannabe pundits shilling for MT Nos. 1 & 2, it’s clear that there is more sucking involved, but with the incoherence of many of their presentations, it is less clear whether that’s a straw to a vat of Kool-Aid in their mouths or perhaps something… or someone else.

  2. Kevin – while the growth in content may not be apparent to you, it is regularly reported by people who are running global localization departments e.g. Wayne Bourland of Dell reported at AMTA2012 conference last month that they doubled their translation volume from 30M words to 60M words within a 2 year period and plans to continue content expansion, with no increase in budget — which also explains why so many more are using MT.

    This growth in content volume is very visible amongst global IT companies even though this may not be as visible in other industries.

    CSA opinions, whatever you may think of them, are based on actual interviews with many people who manage the translation budgets at Fortune 100 companies and who regularly use phrases like “content tsunami”.

    For some companies MT is an imperative since there would be no other way to get it done in a viable cost/time frame and while the output may not be acceptable to a translator, there are many actual customers who find the MT content useful, even in it’s less than perfect form.

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