19 August 2014

From generalist to specialist, but how?

This post is for recent translation graduates and generalists from all backgrounds wondering how to become subject-specialists.

While the best approach is to find the client or potential client in need then learn the skills to fill the need, there are times when it might be better to leap into a field, then prospect for work as a budding specialist. For anyone contemplating this strategy, the next question is How do I pick a field? Again, there are many possible answers. One is to read widely, then explore anything and everything that you find interesting.

The article from the New Yorker mentioned here offers a superb introduction to elevators (aka lifts) and how they make buildings work. Articles like this provide insights into the technology and terminology; more than enough to enable the reader to determine whether or not the field is of potential interest.

Portugal (where I live) and many other countries have home-based elevator/lift manufacturers -- or even a national champion or two -- that often struggle to compete against leading multinationals (not to mention their tough tactics and cartels). Some may already export their products, others may want to export more and in so doing step up to the challenges of promoting and documenting their products and services in selected languages. Bingo! You may now have identified both a potential market for your services and a field of specialisation.

Under the heading 'Stand out from the crowd', item #13 of 101 things a translator needs to know has this to say:
Urologists don’t fix leaking radiators. Hairdressers don’t shear sheep.
Claiming proficiency in a plethora of subjects and languages usually
indicates a lack of professionalism. The I-translate-everything approach also
sends out signals that translation is easy, and easy tasks rarely pay well. If you
want to get interesting, well-paid work, you need a unique selling point.
That’s why it’s important to develop one or more specialist areas and stand
out from the crowd.
Up And Then Down, by Nicholas Paumgartenappeared in the New Yorker on 21 April 2008 and on The Browser today, 19 August 2014.

The Browser summarises the article as follows:
How elevators work, and how they make buildings work. Wrapped around the tale of a New Yorker for whom elevators, one horrible night in October 1999, did not work. Nicholas White, an editor at Business Week, got into a lift at Rockefeller Centre at 11pm. It jammed at the 13th floor. He emerged 41 hours later with his nerves shattered. He sued the company and lost his job. To this day, he doesn’t know what the problem was (8,000 words)

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