In the digital age, software is at the core of nearly everything we do, whether it’s catching a ride via Lyft, ordering a meal from DoorDash or listening to your favorite playlist on Spotify.

And while technology certainly improves our lives, it’s easy to forget about the people powering that technology. The real superstars are the people who work to develop the software, optimizing it for the customer experience and helping the company grow. 

It’s the journey, not the destination

Words are at the core of the user experience and translated words bring the applications we have come to know and love to global consumers. They help to influence the actions of the people that global businesses rely on, such as buying, connecting and understanding. But, translators do so much more than physically translate words. They provide context and meaning to ensure customer content comes to life. 

The concept that humans are at the center of technology — is what spurred us to think about how to humanize our organization, which in our case meant highlighting the translators who play a vital role in our customers’ growth from global commerce. 

In honor of the important work our translators do, we created “Move the World with Words” to showcase stories of the human translators powering our technology. We set out to visit some of our top translators across the world, in cities like Berlin, Germany, Istanbul, Turkey and Mie-gun, Japan. What we found was nothing short of inspiring.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single photo

We selected Elisabeth Brentano – a talented photographer and storyteller with integrity, expertise and global experience – to document our translators’ stories. Elisabeth didn’t know anything about the translation industry, which made it possible for her to learn on the job and uncover the personal stories of the people behind the technology, creating a truly authentic approach.

Elisabeth worked with Smartling’s language services team to select which translators to feature. While she was more than willing to go everywhere – Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America – logistically, it was very complicated. We invited several translators to share with us a proposed itinerary for what they would show Elisabeth if she visited them and we selected the people who we thought would be most easily featured and the most relatable to our audience.

We booked all of Elisabeth’s travel, including flights, hotels, cars and drivers. The schedule was rigorous. A day of travel, a day of shooting, a day of travel – repeat. Elisabeth is an incredible professional and handled the grueling experience with poise, commitment and humility. It was a massive team effort. The occasional hiccup – like a flight booked on a wrong day – was always handled with grace and remedied by Elisabeth, myself or someone on the team within hours. 

Elisabeth’s first stop was to meet Daniel. He lives in a remote village in Asturias, Spain. It’s so remote that he asked Elisabeth to meet him at a bridge in town. While she thought this was pretty strange, Elisabeth obliged and once she arrived she quickly figured out the reason behind the mysterious request – Daniel’s home sits atop a hill on a small unmarked street. But once she made it there, she was energized by Daniel’s life story, the beautiful scenery in Asturias and by Daniel’s insightful report on the state of the translation.

The road less traveled

We gained valuable insights from this experience. Biggest lessons learned include:

Translation outcomes are improved when you know your translator. Just as in any relationship, once you get to know each other and don’t only view each other as the person on the receiving end of emails or the voice on the other end of the phone, the human connection is drastically improved. At the end of the day, translators are just like everyone else. They want to feel appreciated and they want to be seen as valuable members of the company.

Technology enables travel – This trip wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible technology offered by airlines, car rental companies, search engines, etc. that made what once would have required travel agents and months of planning a breeze. But, just like at our company, there are so many amazing people behind the technology, helping to make each piece work.

Overall, the project was a smashing success, and provided higher quality images and materials than we ever could have hoped to include in the Move the World with Words coffee table book. The book focuses on illustrating just how valuable translators are to Smartling and to global commerce in general. By sharing the story of the people behind the scenes – through words and images – we’re redefining how the world thinks about translation. 

We’ve received a plethora of positive feedback so far. “An incredibly beautiful and vital reminder that, even in an increasingly automated industry, translators are still very much at the heart of successful localization. Kudos to Smartling for taking the lead in raising the profile of the professional human translator,” says Anja Jones, AJT Translation.

“We often focus on technology in the localization industry. Translators are the true rockstars, and belong in the spotlight as they are in Move the World with Words,” says Jon Ferm, localization program manager at Pinterest. 

“What a pleasure to read a book that puts the focus back on the center of communication: humans, and human translators. While there’s no doubt that the profession is changing, there is little doubt that translators are far from extinct and invisible. This book beautifully shines a light on the talented linguists who make a significant contribution to the global economy from their keyboards and fascinating workplaces around the planet,” adds Judy Jenner, Twin Translations.

We set out to highlight the people who have had a hand in the success of our company, each of whom has their own unique story. Smartling would not be the company it is today if it weren’t for translators around the world, working to give words meaning and bringing words to life. This trip and the resulting book are just the beginning of our continued commitment to bringing our translators’ stories to the forefront.

About the Author: Adrian Cohn is a brand and communications strategist with experience conceptualizing and implementing worldwide, omnichannel campaigns. Board member of New Orleans area hospital foundation, Cohn currently serves as director of brand strategy and communications at Smartling, a translation technology and services company.