Ten Years of Translation: The First Year of Sitzman AE Translations
I would like to start by wishing all of my readers a wonderful and joyous new year in 2020! Without my loyal readers and customers, I would not be where I am today. Together we made 2019 amazing, but let’s make 2020 even better!
It was a little over ten years ago this month that a recent college graduate and experienced technical draftsperson set out at the height of the Great Recession to find a good 9 to 5 job with opportunities for advancement and instead took a great leap into the unknown abyss of freelance translating. Budget cuts had spelled the end of her job as a technical draftsperson maintaining the blueprints at the university, leaving her stranded in a veritable employment desert. As time went on, a regular job with benefits working for a good company increasingly seemed like an imaginary mirage shimmering over a sea of sand. The employment desert began playing tricks on her mind. If regular jobs weren’t as secure as she had thought, maybe the jobs she had previous thought unstable were actually more stable than regular employment. If no one had the money to hire her for a full-time job, maybe they would hire her for one job here and there. She was good at what she did, she knew they would come back once she had a chance to prove herself. No one would give her a good job, so why not go out on a limb and create her dream job from scratch? Why not freelance? Sitzman AE Translations was born.
January 2010: New Beginnings
That college graduate was me and after months of research and mental preparation, I resolved to launch my freelance career in January of 2010. Wasting no time, I signed up as a member of the American Translators Association and registered a business called Sitzman AE Translations in one fell swoop. Registering a business is a strange thing. You feel you’ve made a big commitment, yet the rest of the world remains blissfully unaware. By that time, I had landed a job working midnight to 8 am handling the German calls at a call center. Driving to work in the middle of the night and answering the phone to find yourself speaking to someone halfway around the world in a foreign language was an otherworldly experience. The best part, however, was it allowed me to keep regular office hours at my shiny new, somewhat unknown translation business. I returned home each day eager to monitor my email and snag any translation work that came my way. When I wasn’t reading emails, I was sending them. The inboxes of hundreds of companies were graced by my resume in my first year as a translator and I enjoyed an astounding response rate of approximately 10%.
January 2010: First Project
A few weeks following my big launch, one company took a leap of faith and sent me the smallest translation they had to offer – a driver’s license. Small or not, this was my shining moment, my chance at glory. This was my first paid translation project! Although it would probably take me less than an hour to translate a similar document now, back then I was inexperienced and eager to please. Eight hours later, I had poured over every single article and website in both German and English discussing German driver’s licenses on the internet. Every word right down to the definite articles had been researched several times over in at least three dictionaries. The document itself had been formatted to look identical to the original. At the end of my research marathon, my translation was a thing of beauty. I turned it in proudly. In fact, the same client returned with translation assignments several times before slipping off my radar. My first project had been a success.
February 2010: Tricked by Scammers
Flush with youthful inexperience and thrilled about my latest foray into the realm of motor vehicles, I soon accepted my first and last assignment from a fraudulent translation agency. They explained that they were a translation company in India who wanted to have a large journalistic article discussing business and the stock market translated from German into English as soon as possible. Since it was so large, they would break it up between several translators. How much could I complete in two days? Excited to be receiving my second paid translation job, I failed to research the company’s background as I knew I should. After all, they seemed nice enough.
I told them a number – probably 4,000 words – and they sent me twice as much! Thinking it was an honest mistake, I wrote back reminding them I could only complete 4,000 words and that 8,000 would take twice as long. Instead of remedying the problem, however, they simply replied with a highly irrational question for one hour into the project – “Is it finished yet?”. If the same thing were to happen to me now, I would drop that thing like a hot potato and tell them to find a different translator. As a young, inexperienced translator, however, it felt like everything was my fault. I eagerly worked for three days to complete the project, answering emails from them with urgent inquiries on the status of the project all the while. It was the most intense project I had ever done. What a relief it was to finish the project and finally turn it in! One month after issuing my invoice, I had not received a single penny for my efforts and neither had the other translators. Lesson learned.
October 2010: My First Professional Translation Conference
Starting out as a translator can be like waking up to find that you have been dropped into a vast forest all alone. You typically spend all day behind a computer screen at home hunting for projects and without contact of any kind to other translators. During my first few years, I often wondered if I was doing everything right. Was I following standard operating procedure for a typical professional translator? How could I improve my work flows and methods? Was it hard to get work because I was a beginner or because I was doing something wrong?
When the time came for the American Translators Association’s annual conference, I was excited to meet other translators for the first time and find out what their lives were like. The night before the conference, I lay awake in my hotel room full of anticipation. It felt like a sojourn to another planet. What would it be like to meet real translators? Were they all doing this as a side job or working full-time in the field? Would they be eccentric, likeable, unfathomable? What would they think of me? What would I think of them? What is this alien world of translation I have been exploring for the past several months and how does it really work?
The conference far exceeded my greatest expectations. Not only were most of the people at the conference making a comfortable living translating full-time, but they were all language enthusiasts like me. Finally, a group of people I could compare dictionaries with, debate the intricacies of the comma with, and generally geek out with. I had departed the employment desert and landed in heaven.
October 2010: I Find a Mentor
One crucial person I found at the conference was a mentor. I had been looking for a mentor online for a while, since I felt I needed some sort of help from a more experienced person. Maybe it seemed like I wanted free work from them or was trying to scam them in some way. I would later find out that translators tend to be naturally skeptical of strangers on the internet with less than one year of professional history logged on the ether. Whatever the case was, I couldn’t find anyone to help me. Then I fell into conversation with a Japanese translator and a German translator following a networking event at the conference. The German translator introduced himself as Kyle Vraa and upon finding out that I was new to the profession, said something none of the other translators had uttered: “If you have any questions, let me know.” Eureka! A mentor! I surreptitiously designated Kyle as my mentor. After the reaction I had gotten from the other translators, I felt it best he remain oblivious to his new role. He had said I could ask questions and ask questions I would.
Kyle turned out to be an amazing mentor without even knowing it. Whenever I had a question or needed moral support, he was always there with a helpful answer or pep talk. At the next conference a year later, I accidentally spilled the beans by introducing him to someone as my mentor. The look on his face was so pricelessly heartwarming, I will never forget it. We decided to continue officially as mentor and mentee while participating in the new mentoring program of the ATA and continue to be good friends to this day.
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