Software localisation

Software localisation is a good career choice for graduates with skills in languages and IT.

Software localisation refers to the whole area of adapting computer software to suit the needs of a particular country, language and culture. The bulk of development is occurring in the western world, however it must continue to match the needs of all customers. Over 100 million people access the internet in a language other than English.

Localisation is the process of adapting products and services to the needs of global users – it enables non-English-speaking users around the world to benefit from technology. Language translation is only a small part of localisation – it also involves modifying products to consider cultural and political sensitivities, colours and sounds, date, time, currency formats and social factors to enable users to interact more effectively with the products.

The entire process of localisation involves the expertise of a multidisciplinary team. Jobs include software localisation engineer, software localisation specialist, localisation programme manager, language co-ordinator, translator, language automation specialist, programme manager and quality assurance.

The software localisation specialist translates software from English to native languages and adapts software to reflect cultural sensitivities. Large multinational companies employ their own localisation team permanently. Many other organisations employ the services of specialist software localisation companies, where their services can be used on contract when they are needed.

Language experts within a localisation team need to have specialist knowledge and be able to handle complex terminology. Translators need to be highly experienced and knowledgeable in specialist subjects and IT languages, and able to work effectively as part of a technical team. Language staff can be required to translate all types of software, computer programs, technical manuals and documents for customer support. Core activities include translation from English to a target language, liaising with localisation team members and using computer-assisted translation technologies (CAT).

Working life

Working hours are in line with normal industry schedules (generally 9.00 am – 5.00 pm). Prospects for travel overseas are good, both in terms of relocating and in the form of trips abroad to deal with clients. Salaries are competitive with larger organisations.

Who would it suit?

The ideal candidate needs to have a combination of qualifications, such as a languages degree with computer science or business or, alternatively, technical experience or a postgraduate conversion course in the IT area, or technical writing and a translation qualification. Knowledge of software localisation tools is useful, although training in localisation tools is often provided. Other skills sought include excellent written and verbal communication skills, well-developed organisational skills and the ability to work under pressure to strict deadlines. The ability to work effectively as part of a team, a willingness to learn, problem-solving skills and initiative are also important.

The career ladder

The challenge of breaking into the localisation field is lack of experience. As with most IT positions, employers look for between one and three years' experience. Armed with the relevant qualifications and training, graduates can find it helpful to register with a translation agency and focus on undertaking small assignments of a technical nature. As their ‘portfolio’ expands, they are in a position to successfully apply for localisation jobs.

Opportunities exist for promotion, depending on background and experience. Translators and language co-ordinators, for instance, can gain promotion to localisation project manager. Typical activities in this role would include management of all aspects of the localisation process, such as providing quotations for clients, ensuring specifications are adhered to within the budget and the delivery of projects on time.

Getting a job

Translation jobs in IT localisation are often advertised through specialist recruitment agencies and websites that either deal with language skills or IT or both. Translation websites and journals are also a good source of information. Large multinational software companies often employ their own teams of language specialists. Fortunately, the largest organisations are located here. More commonly, companies employ the services of specialised localisation and translation service providers. A sizeable number are located in Ireland.

CVs and applications for jobs in this field need to give a clear and detailed account of your knowledge and experience of localisation software tools, and convey an openness and ability to learn and apply new skills quickly. The focus of interviews will be on technological knowledge of software tools, linguistic expertise of subject area, competency in target language, cultural awareness of the target language country and team skills. Employers may be multinational companies or localisation service providers.

Essential preparation should involve a thorough review of your knowledge and experience of software, revision of relevant terminology, evidence of your team skills and quick learning abilities. Lastly, of course, detailed research of the company.

Make sure your standard of English is impeccable in your written application. It should contain a record of any translations you have already done and grades you were awarded for translation assignments in college. The selection process will almost definitely include a translation assignment – practise, revise and prepare. It can help to view the interviewer as a potential ‘client’. See this as an opportunity to let them know that you have the skills, the interest and knowledge needed to give them what they’re looking for.

When applying for jobs in software localisation, you will need to demonstrate the following attributes:

  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Good organisational skills
  • A willingness to learn
  • Being an effective team player
  • Technical computer skills.