STEM and Localization – How STEM is Impacting the Localization Industry

BlogIndustry Trends & Innovation

Interview with industry experts Winnie Heh and Max Troyer at MIIS


Author Vikki Carter, TLM Program Chair Max Troyer, and Career Advisor Winnie Heh

Twenty years ago, there was no opportunity to study for a degree or equivalent qualification in “localization” – it was a subject you picked up on the job, primarily by being a project manager. Now the importance of producing qualified job candidates who understand the industry and its ever-evolving technologies cannot be understated. To get a different perspective on this, I asked two well-respected members of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) in Monterey, California for their thoughts. Winnie Heh is Board Member, Career and Performance Coach and Advisor at MIIS, as well as a member of the Silicon Valley chapter of Women in Localization. Max Troyer is Translation Consultant and Associate Professor of Translation and Localization Management.

  1. Please give a brief overview of your roles at MIIS.

Winnie Heh: I am a Career Advisor at MIIS specializing in advising students in the Translation, Interpretation and Localization Management programs. I teach a Career Management class, serve as a career coach for students and develop employer relations.

Max Troyer: I am the Program Chair for the Translation and Localization Management (TLM) program. I’ve been teaching since 2010, and my courses include Multilingual Desktop Publishing, Audio-Visual Localization, Software & Games Localization, Website Localization and our Translation and Localization Practicum course. I have overall responsibility for the program curriculum and do my best to keep the content fresh and up-to-date with the latest industry innovations. I am interested in how we can leverage AI and automation to do more with less, and how we can prepare our students for strategic careers with potential for future growth.

  1. In your roles at MIIS, have you seen an increase over the past few years in students applying for STEM subjects and particularly those involving localization as a core subject?

WH: Yes, I have. When I first arrived in 2015, we had about 25 graduates from our Localization Management program. For May 2019, we had 50 graduates.

MT: When I started teaching, the TLM program had between 20 and 25 students for several years, then slowly grew in size. In 2017, we launched new specializations that opened the door to students with a second language that wasn’t quite near-native. The program doubled in size. Last year, we became a STEM program and then the program grew by a quarter, which doesn’t seem impressive until I mention that the admissions cycle was at its end when we announced STEM, so this admissions cycle will be a true test of the draw of being a STEM program. Take a look at the following graph:

  1. How long has Localization been a core subject at MIIS?

MT: Localization has been slowly growing over the years. Computer-assisted translation (CAT) has been taught for 25 or more years, project management and software localization for 20 years. The first TLM graduates were in 2006, and that’s really when the program took off. Now we have 3 courses dedicated to CAT, about 5 in project management, 4 technical courses (the ones I teach), and many courses on the business side of the industry. The core program is made up of 14 courses, with probably 10 or so electives specific to localization. It has been quite a journey going from a few CAT courses to almost 25 localization courses, which makes our program probably one of the most comprehensive in the world.

  1. What percentage split do you tend to see for applications in terms of male versus female students?

WH: I looked at the enrolled students in Localization Management as of Fall 2018, 67% were female.

MT: This has always been the case in T&I and TLM, which highlights the importance of Women in Localization!

  1. In your localization courses, do you cover newer, developing subjects such as AI (Artificial Intelligence) and MTPE (Machine Translation Post-Editing) as part of the core material?

MT: Our translation faculty are introducing MTPE, but we cover the practical matters in our CAT courses, such as when MTPE makes sense or when it is a liability. All TLM students learn how to train neural MT engines and improve translation quality with glossaries. In my technical courses, we study the impact of AI and automation, specifically for automated workflows and continuous localization. At every point, every topic, I ask students to consider how we might automate. AI has not really filtered down into the automation side of the industry, but we are starting to see it at the vendor-selection level and data gathering and analysis, so this will be a future growth opportunity. We have one data course already and will be adding another next semester. Another future opportunity will be adding computational linguistics and natural language processing (NLP) electives.

  1. What would be your ideal candidate’s background to register for your localization course “Translation and Localization Management Program” at MIIS?

WH: My perspective: Excellent written and verbal communication skills. Tech savvy – not afraid of learning to speak the language of the techies. Strong critical thinking skills – able to connect the dots and see the big picture. Strong organizational skills.

MT: The ideal candidate is comfortable with technology but doesn’t need to have a CS (Computer Science) background, speaks a second language but doesn’t have to be fluent, needs to be a strong communicator both oral and written and needs enthusiasm to learn a whole bunch of skills in a sort amount of time.

  1. How do you think the STEM subjects have impacted the localization industry in recent years?

WH: Localization management used to attract language majors. I am starting to see computer science majors entering into this program. Students used to have a narrow view of their place in the localization ecosystem. They see themselves as project managers and that’s about it, but I am seeing students getting into data analysis and sales.

MT: While language is still central to what we are doing, we acknowledge that technical and business skills also prepare students for the industry, not necessarily as a translator or even remotely close to it, but working upstream to take organizations, ideas and companies global.

  1. What do you think the future holds for those who want to pursue a career in localization, and for the industry itself?

WH: The industry will grow and I tell students: “The job you are going to have in 5 years may not even exist today. You need to expect to keep learning and growing.”

MT: The world doesn’t seem to be getting less global. Every organization or company that decides to go global is creating opportunity for those who choose to go into the localization industry. We share a passion for languages and for connecting people, and this true mission unites us and powers us to continue innovating and sharing, and sometimes commiserating, but always moving forward.