Wednesday, August 26, 2009

ATA, TCD, & Conferences in General

Today my translation project manager and I spent a lot of time pouring over the schedule of seminars for the upcoming American Translators Association (ATA) conference in New York City. After attending the conference last year, I wasn't really overwhelmed with a great need to go again this year, but after attending the Translation Company Division (TCD) conference in Quebec this summer, I'm reconsidering. One of the reasons I had elected not to go to this year's ATA was that the sessions just aren't built for language service provider (LSP) owners. And that's okay. The ATA's purpose isn't really to help us, no matter how hard the TCD may try. The ATA is for the freelancer. I agree with Ted Wozniack, German translator and active ATA member, when he says that the ATA should drop corporate memberships all together--that the Association of Language Companies (ALC) should represent LSPs while the ATA represents freelancers, and that the ALC and the ATA should represent the profession as a whole. But I meander.

Simply put, while the ATA conference might be fun, it's not at all educational for LSP execs. This year's schedule, for example, is packed full of such money-making thrillers as "U.S. and European Union Translation Quality International Standards" and "The Translation Service Market in China as Seen from Local Language Services Providers." Utterly enthralling and very applicable to running a more profitable business, I know. (Please note the sarcasm in my tone.)

So then why am I even thinking about going? Because I've finally learned what a conference is all about. Call me a silly girl, but when I went to my first translating & interpreting conference in 2006, I went to learn. Did I learn there, and have I learned at others since? Yes. Lesson one? You don't go to conferences to learn. You go to network.

Networking is a historically ugly word, conjuring up images of chiropractors and realtors huddling around the cheese table at your local chamber of commerce event, pushing off glossy business cards with their photos printed on them, pronouncing your name wrong as they say, "Call me," and shove the rectangular piece of paper stock in your hand. But networking at a conference--when done right--is entirely different than at chamber mixers, 100% of which I now make a forcible effort to avoid. At a conference, you can spend one-on-one time with people who actually do what you do (rare in our profession) and openly discuss ideas to help you both grow and learn. If you do it right, as I finally learned how to do at this year's TCD, then a freeflow of ideas is created, leading to the innovation that will see translating & interpreting through the crowdsourcing panic and beyond the fear and doubt caused by the continuing improvement of machine translation. These conferences then become the place where you can individually assure yourself and collectively improve. If there are truly any new thought leaders being born in our profession, then conferences are the places where they are grown.

So, all that said, will I be at ATA? I think we both know, if I am, it sure won't be for the sessions.


bonnjill said...

I think the sessions are secondary to networking as well. That said, as a freelancer I am looking forward to some of the sessions - and hope freelancers and LSPs come out of my session with more knowledge about working with PDFs and PDF tools.

Terena Bell - In Every Language said...

You're right, Jill, in that the sessions for the freelancers are a LOT more interesting. I must admit the geek in me gets giddy every time I see something like "Punctuation Differences in English and French." But from the LSP stand point, there's not really much at all for us. Of course, that's why we have TCD and ALC. It's just that corporate members pay MORE for their ATA membership and get far LESS from the organization. Of course, that's a whole other blog post...

And, all that being said, I'm sure your session will be great!

Jorge Payan said...

Dear Terena:

Attending for the first time an ATA TCD conference this April in Washington, I find your opinion very reassuring. As a Latin America based LSP what I expect is that: networking.

Hope to see you there and learn from your experience!

Jorge Payan - ORBITECH