What matters most

The techie in the background – how our Localization Engineer Ben Miller helps everything run smoothly


The technical demands of the translation process might not be immediately apparent, but they can quickly become major challenges. That’s where Localization Engineers come in: with their technical expertise, they’re the first port of call if there are technical issues or problems, and they make the whole translation process easier. At MEINRAD, Ben Miller is that person though his career in translation started in a very different role.

Most people probably don’t know what a “Localization Engineer” does when they first hear that job title. How would you describe it?

A client sends a text to a translation agency, the translators translate the text into the desired language(s), and the text is sent back to the client. That’s how simple many people think the translation process is, but there’s more to it than that. Underpinning everything is a whole lot of technical preparation and problem-solving – and that’s exactly where I come in. As a Localization Engineer, I handle all the software and technology issues that occur at MEINRAD. That usually begins with preparing the files as soon as we receive them from the client, and we can get involved at any point in the translation process through to final delivery of the translated texts. So Localization Engineers are basically the bridge between the everyday work we do as a translation agency and the technical challenges that come with it.

How do you support your colleagues and clients in what they do every day?

Project managers and translators often don’t have the time or the expertise to resolve complex technical problems. The technical demands of the translation sector are huge, and it makes sense to separate these issues from project management so that project managers don’t have as much on their plate. So my job is to keep an eye on which of the steps involved in project management can be optimized, and on the areas where I can really make life easier for project managers. Our Project Managers know that they can rely on my technical support. This includes constantly working to enhance our in-house workflows: if one of us notices that a particular part of the process can be improved, I want to use that opportunity to develop an effective, long-term solution that everyone at MEINRAD can benefit from, rather than just helping out the Project Managers in that specific situation. Ultimately, that gives them more time for the most important parts of their job, such as personal contact with our clients.

Another main part of my job is to manage our translation tool memoQ and the project management system XTRF, with the aim of making the most of the potential of these two systems. But I also spend a lot of time on file preparation. Texts need to be prepared so that they can be imported into memoQ with as few problems as possible. If they are, and if they’ve been adapted to the system requirements, that doesn’t just make life easier for our Project Managers and translators – it also makes a big difference for our clients. Right from the start, we avoid lots of potential problems that would be a lot harder to fix if they occurred later in the translation process.

Your main job is to solve problems. What expertise and which skills do you need most of all for that?

Few other sectors change as quickly as the technology sector, so you have to keep up with new developments! Every Localization Engineer needs the ability to study independently and has to have a fundamental interest in technology. I picked up a lot of my technical knowledge from my hobbies and personal interests, but it doesn’t have to be like that. There are even specific courses you can take now that prepare you for working as a Localization Engineer. The typical path to becoming a Localization Engineer is with an educational background in software and IT, but I think a good Localization Engineer needs more than just this technical expertise: it’s about combining it with a passion for languages. After all, the work you do every day will always revolve primarily around translations.

You studied translation. How come you now work in such a technical role?

At first glance, you might not think that translation and technology have much in common. But they should go hand in hand, especially at a translation agency which specializes in technical translations. I’ve always had an interest in everything related to technology, and I seemed to be pretty good at it from a young age. My parents are from the USA, and I went to a bilingual school – otherwise I probably would have gone to a technical college. As a kid I was so fascinated by technology that I spent some of my free time programming websites, and when I began working as a translator and reviewer, languages and technology quickly came together. I took on more and more technical responsibilities, and that’s how my interest in technology led to my job as a Localization Engineer.

What are the biggest challenges in your everyday work?

Time management is probably the biggest challenge. My top priority is always the needs of our clients, so good organizational skills are crucial in order to meet deadlines and deliver what they need. But remembering to document what we do is also key. At some point in the future my team and I will need to understand the work we’ve done, so we need detailed written records of everything.

I’d say the fiddliest part of my job is preparing files both before and after translation – after all, one of the services we offer is ensuring our clients’ various programs and file formats work with our systems. For our clients, the advantage is that they don’t have spend time preparing the files for publishing once we deliver their projects. Otherwise, they’d have to go through the complex process of manually copying the translated texts back into their systems. What we do makes that largely unnecessary, which saves them a huge amount of time and stress. But there are so many different file formats and systems around, so this preparation process can quickly become a real challenge.

Which tools and programs do you work with as a Localization Engineer?

Lots of the files we work with are XML or text-based, so we usually work with XML authoring tools and text editors. We also use Regular expressions (RegEx) a lot, as many of our workflow steps ultimately involve complex text manipulation – think of it like the Find and Replace feature in Word, but times 10. And I also have to know my way around memoQ, as that’s the translation tool we use every day at MEINRAD.

Sometimes you also visit clients and advise their translation departments on technical issues. What are those visits like?

A smooth translation process rarely begins with the actual translation. It’s usually in the first conversations we have with clients that the first key points arise, and if we follow up on them properly this can make the whole workflow easier. That’s why it’s so important to talk to clients in depth. When we do that, my job is to ask questions about the source material and the software used to produce it – in order to prepare and handle projects as effectively as possible, I need to take a very close look at the technical issues involved. The follow-up discussion is when we get down to brass tacks, and I can consult with the client to make sure everything is set up as it should be for each individual project. This is a step that will really benefit them (and us) later on.

What do you do when you aren’t in front of a computer screen?

I go for runs, I occasionally smoke a pipe, and I enjoy a good craft beer after work! Even in my spare time you’ll often find me in front of a computer screen, but I like spending time offline just as much. I’m a musician, which gives me a chance to unleash my creative streak, and my way of taking my mind completely off things is to play Dungeons & Dragons. My interest in languages isn’t limited to the digital world: I love reading in my spare time, and my favourite genre is fantasy.