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Saturday, 19 March 2016

What You Can Do as No Longer a Newbie

Other than my own experience, I have no qualifications to give proper career advice. Actually, I'm looking at this rather through the perspective of character development in a roleplaying game — where you advance in your particular class, sometimes take an advanced class or 'prestige class', depending on the particulars of the system you're using, you pick up additional feats or talents or whatever they are called.

So, imagine you've taken a couple of levels as Translator. Let's say you're a level 3, level 5 or level 7 translator now, no longer a freshly created level 1 character. You're at the stage where back in the middle ages it would be high time to get you knighted (back when it wasn't an accolade for grey-haired professors, businessmen and singers but a right of passage for warriors from 'good' families) or inducted as full member of some sort of guild. Modern translators' associations are still much like guilds, with full membership or associate membership or special membership: senior, expert and so on.

In a roleplaying game, the requirements for each such accolade tend to be easily visible as a tooltip when you hover the mouse cursor over something that's greyed out for now, but you generally have a sense of direction — you know what you can plan for.

Similarly, prerequisites for all sorts of university programmes, certifications, association memberships, official accreditations and so on are usually public knowledge, available to everybody in full detail. This means that here too you can certainly plan for them in advance, long before you actually meet the requirements, but obviously you'll need to do some checking and some planning beforehand.

In some situations in a game you also end up with a bunch of saved-up 'points' that you didn't really know how to spend immediately when you earned them, so rather than spending them randomly you decided to keep playing and worry about this character stuff later. Let's pretend this is more or less the situation you're at now, or perhaps you're just stealing a furtive glance at whatever options are going to become available to you when you've done a little more progress. Or just looking around tentatively before you commit.

A single level-up is, of course, rarely a huge life-changing event for a game character, but characters that have some direction in their development tend to be more efficient. For a single level chances are the difference doesn't matter much, but if you take several of the right feats, skills or talents (or whatever they are called) from the right 'chain', then you can do more damage with your weapon faster or cast better spells faster, more powerfully, compared to the results you get when you just wing it as you go.

So, once you've hit level 5 or 7 or 9, you're not yet an epic paladin or Gandalf-level wizard, but it's high time you thought about landing some of those neat advanced options that have opened up in the meantime, as opposed to simply watching your weapon or spell damage grow steadily by something like 0.5-2 points a level.

For starters, you may want to stop being a generic '(dear) linguist' and instead commit to an advanced 'character class' such as specialist translator or conference interpreter. Or project manager or language consultant, if that's where your path leads or what your skillset makes you better-suited for.

This is really similar to how 'champion' has a better ring to it than 'fighter' and 'archmage' just plain sounds better than 'mage'. Some of those are a simple matter of choosing various available paths of progress, others are more situational and reflect whatever you've been doing so far, sometimes by random chance. For example you can't really be a master archer if you've only ever stabbed people with swords. You can't be a 'Keeper of the Grove' if you've never been near a grove. Simple, isn't it?

So, here are a couple of things you can do (and choices you have to make):

  • Commit to a narrower specialization (e.g. pharma interpreting, legal proofreading) for good or just gain some advanced qualifications to open new paths, to enable you to do some things you couldn't do before. This is more like branching off into something different but complementary.
  • Upgrade your B.A. to M.A. or M.A. to advanced master's or Ph.D. for something more akin to vertical, hierarchical progress, Or add one more bachelor's but this time in your translation subject, not translation itself, to become dually qualified. Or a degree in translation or languages if you came from a different field and want to establish your credentials as a proper linguist as well. In any case, making progress with degrees and other such scalable formal qualifications will solidify your knowledge and also give you more gravitas.
  • Get licensed to practice in your subject field, as a variation on the two points above. You won't really be practicing, but it will put you more on level with practitioners. Doing so will open some doors, give you access to some resources and equipment, and more sway in certain circles where you'd like to be listened to.
  • Translation-related certifications are similar to the two or three above.
  • However, you can also opt for writer-specific rather than translator-specific qualifications. This is especially important in fields and applications that don't call for literal translation, such as marketing marketing, or fields where translation needs to be very faithful and at the same time aesthetically appealing, persuasive, such as law, where most translation needs to be precise and appealing, meaning the skill bar for literal translation is set higher.
  • Add an element of strategy or management to make your translation potentially more goal-conscious and more efficient at communication, more adaptable to the needs of the task at hand. This might actually come in handy on the subject side, too, if you're a business translator. Isn't everybody, at least to the extent business is done in whatever field one translates in?
  • Similarly, qualifying as a copywriter would primarily improve your marketing translation but also all sorts of business translation, then anything really that needs to be at least somewhat convincing or appealing, and finally your own self-made copy. You might be able to pick pure copywriting jobs on the side and benefit from your translation experience while doing them, if that's what you want, but you'd better be able to make an informed decision about your focus, as pursuing two paths at the same time always comes at a price.
  • Adapt to your unique setting. You won't get the year or two — or however much time it takes — of your life back, they may be lost if you fall out with the existing top clients you're doing this for, but within that narrow niche the rewards will be high. For example an 'elf friend' is good with the elves but pretty useless when the elves depart, unless he requalifies as storyteller or sets out on an epic search himself. ;) You'll become the natural go-to guy for trouble, or else the everyday handler of their relevant business, whichever floats your boat and theirs. It's kinda one boat now, which is essentially the whole point.
  • Just keep adding more languages or fields. But you'll need to decide between dabbling in all types of melee weapons or schools of magic known to man and becoming good at two or three of them or really, really good at just one. More versatility is not always found in being a jack of all trades and master of none, because sometimes advanced abilities within your own core skillset eventually fill the gaps better. For example it might be cool to have access to a fighter's choice of weapons and armour for your rogue, but the delay in developing your core skills is going to haunt you; you will be perhaps not four or five steps behind but just that one step which sometimes matters, such as that one chest of epic loot you fail to open just barely, or the one final trap that kills you. As mage, you're mostly better off shooting 'fire arrows' from your mage staff expertly than shooting real arrows from a real bow clumsily. As fighter, you may be tempted to gain some of the skills of a rogue with traps and locks, but time taken off your combat training will make you at least a marginally less effective tank or damage dealer where such margins matter. You really need an element of linear progress, not just odds and ends you pick up here or there..
  • Learn more tools, buy more CAT and other editing software to expand your reach in so far as it depends on meeting such requirements. Doing so gives you breadth; you can now accept more quests. In some situations it can also help you become more self-sufficient, which gives you depth and independence. See above, though. And remember that spending your money on equipment prevents you from being able to spend it on training, so choose wisely.
  • Join associations. They are like guilds. A guild typically has more resources and more pull than a single fighter or mage. That's the point of being in a guild. A guild sometimes hands out quests and rewards you for longevity. Don't count on a dividend, but seniority has its perks. You can also learn management, socialize, give back to the community, chill with your pals, trade loot and stories, and do a couple of other things. And occasionally free beer. What's not to like?

Remember you can't do it all in a single lifetime, and if you try to catch too many birds chances are all will slip. You'll need to make choices — and it helps to know what you're doing. But above all you need a sense of progress and at least a vague idea of what you want to do with your life as you level up.

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