Max Troyer at MIIS: Training the Localizers of the Future
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Max Troyer at MIIS: Training the Localizers of the Future

As they look to foreign markets to drive revenues, global enterprises are building up their localization programs. These departments are big—nearly 60% of the revenue of international companies comes from foreign markets—yet universities have been slow to build programs to train people to work in the localization industry. Max Troyer, Program Chair of the Translation and Localization Management (TLM) program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) in Monterey, California, is working to change that by training students to be the localization project managers of the future. We spoke to Max to understand the needs of global businesses and what his department provides.

Max, what do you do at the Middlebury Institute?

I’m the Program Chair of the Translation and Localization Management degree program and am also an Associate Professor of Professional Practice.

I teach our technology courses: Website Localization, Multilingual Desktop Publishing and Audio-Visual Localization, and Software and Games Localization. I also teach Localization Practicum, a year-long course in which our second-year students operate a localization agency called Globe Multilingual Services, gaining valuable experience translating and localizing content for our non-profit partners.

Tell me a little bit about the Middlebury Institute.

The Institute was founded in 1955, first as the Middlebury Institute of Foreign Studies, then the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of our translation and interpretation program, and that is the theme of our upcoming Monterey Forum 2019. The Translation and Localization Management program has been around for almost 15 years at this point.

In your experience, what are the top skills that Loc PMs will need in the future?

They need broad knowledge. First, you need to understand the work that’s being done. As a project manager, you’re not doing much of the production work, but if you understand it you will be able to talk to and support the people who are doing that work. You will be able to help them and even evaluate their work. Take subtitling—our students can evaluate subtitles and they can help translators with subtitling tools. Even if they’re not qualified to actually translate subtitles, although many of our students are fully qualified translators, they can tell you if they meet criteria and can manage those projects, get them into a CAT tool, prep them for translation, that kind of thing.

Also, they can no longer just be good at time management and organization; that’s not going to cut it anymore. They need good analytical and people skills. They need to be able to look at a problem and figure out how to fix it. Then, we really need to think of the human side of project management: morale building, team building—the kinds of things that aren’t necessarily natural to everyone.

It’s our goal to expose our students to many different aspects of the localization world.

Along with localization-specific classes, you teach business classes. Tell us more about that.

Our students who come from language or technical backgrounds must learn the business side. They all take a number of business courses so that they can work with business people and not overwhelm them with technical localization terminology and concepts. Then we give them some experience working directly with clients in the year-long practicum.

I’ll also say that if you’re a language person—if you come from a linguistics background—it’s harder to bolt on the business and technical sides. But if you’re a technical person, it’s a little easier to add the localization side. Regardless, the business side has to be taught.

Has your program changed over the years?

Most definitely! There’s a feedback loop with our alumni and with people that we talk to in the industry. We’re constantly tweaking the program, making changes and creating new classes. It’s a living, breathing program.

AI is a hot topic and on everyone’s mind right now. How has loc project management changed with AI?

Once AI starts to automate things like job assignment, routing and kicking a file into production, it’s going to remove a lot of the manual stuff that PMs do and elevate them to a more strategic level of project management. They’re not really project managers at that point; we’ll need new job titles.

Alibaba, the gigantic Chinese enterprise that operates something like 60 companies, doesn’t have project managers anymore. They don’t need them. Instead, they have solutions architects. They kick off workflows and then they’re “hands off.” The architects work with the individual organizations within the company, evangelize to them and onboard them into their automated systems.

Our industry changes quickly. How do you keep current?

I talk to our alumni. They are one of my biggest resources for figuring out what I need to be covering in our program. I attend LocWorld, I read MultiLingual magazine, I recently attended SlaterCon, I go to TAUS and GALA. My ear is to the ground. And I’m a consultant, so I have clients that I help to implement processes, and in doing so I learn about their problems and their pain points. It’s just being active in the industry.

Everything that I do professionally and everything that I learn informs how we teach and what I teach personally.

When your students graduate, what types of positions do they get hired for?

About 80% of our graduates become localization project managers, but more and more students are going straight to the buyer side.

I always tell students that when you go to the client side, you’ll likely be working with one product over and over and all you can look forward to are new features. At an LSP, you get to work with many different clients and get to be exposed to a ton of different things. It’s more exciting on the LSP side, in my opinion, but salaries are generally higher on the buyer side and there are loans to pay off.

Tell me more about Globe Multilingual Services.

My work on that has been very rewarding. We partner with non-profits and we get volunteer linguists to translate their content. Right now, we’re translating 95,000 words for an organization called Free the Slaves whose mission is to end indentured servitude and slavery around the world. We found this partner down in Haiti, seekNcheck, and their translators volunteered to translate a 90,000-word guide that will help train trainers to go into communities and help end all types of modern slavery. Our clients include PanLex, The Crayon Initiative, the National Museum of Marine Science Technology of Taiwan, the National Steinbeck Center, the United Nations and the National Park Service, among others.

These types of amazing projects make us feel like we’re giving back to the community and helping the world be a better place.

What else would you like to tell me about?

In the past, I would have said we’re training project managers, but now we’re training “localizers.” There are so many different roles within the industry. You’ve got terminology management, QA, testing, subtitling, dubbing, DTP, motion graphics, software, games, mobile and e-commerce. There are so many places where a “localizer” could end up. It’s a really exciting time to graduate from our program. As more and more companies go online and go global, there is just nothing but opportunity.


If you’re intrigued by the TLM program at MIIS, go here for more information.

And if you would like to read more about Globe Multilingual Services, check it out here.