We're lucky to work with the brightest talents: Interview with Kürşat Özel

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In June, we announced that Smartcat had partnered with Saylon, one of the leading LSPs in Turkey. Shortly after, we contacted Saylon's CEO Kürşat Özel asking him to share some of his personal experiences of working in the industry — from his early days as a freelance translator to running a success business. Read on for some first-hand insights into the Turkish language market.

Kürşat Özel, CEO at Saylon

— How long have you been working on the industry?

20 years.

— What made you interested in working with language services?

I was a student back then, and freelance translation was the best job with flexible hours and a good income.

— Have you worked with translations yourself?

Yes. I have started as a freelancer, switched to full-time at an LSP one year later, and after working for 4 years there, we have founded Saylon with my partner.

— Can you tell us a bit about the translation industry in Turkey and the participation of Saylon in it?

Translation industry in Turkey is a joy to be in. Since a good second or third language knowledge is still a rare thing, the people involved are usually overqualified with shiny resumes and surprising degrees, be it the linguists, the competitor entrepreneurs, or the clients. The clientele is especially high profile and LSPs in Turkey do not face certain problems most industries suffer from. Saylon is celebrating its 15th year in the industry this month and we are very proud to lead our industry in customer satisfaction. Saylon also takes part in leading industry associations to help create better standards for the LSPs and the linguists.

— Which fields of expertise would you say are the most requested for translation in Turkey?

Technical translations in general (manufacturing, machinery, etc.) should be the largest field of demand. Since this is a very diversified field, it requires various types of expertise. IT should be the second one, with lots of software elements requiring translation. These two are followed by life sciences and marketing. The common denominator of all these fields is that all those industries are dominated by multinational companies with imported products or services or products/services to be exported, requiring heavy translation work.

— What are your thoughts on Machine Translation?

I think it is a game changer. Machine Translation has been developing for decades now and the technology has finally matured enough to make sense. Neural MT promises much more in the nearest future. We clearly see the rising demand for MT post-editing in all kinds of translations from our customers. We will definitely focus on this direction in the future.

— What are your thoughts on online project managing platforms? What about cloud-based services?

Modern online project managing market offers numerous different platforms, giving us a chance to systemize business data, share important information with your team and to discipline day-to-day activities. At the moment, we are trying several solutions in order to find the best option for our team, but we need more time before we share the results.

— What are your thoughts on the competition?

The language services industry in Turkey is not really regulated/standardized and it is more of a free-for-all environment. This creates fierce competition and sometimes allows unqualified actors to damage the reputation and the stability of the industry and all its participants. Aside from that risk, the industry and the profile of the people and competitor LSPs are mostly very high compared to other industries and the business conduct is highly ethical.

— What do you believe the future expects of the translation industry in Turkey?

There are two different types of LSPs in the market. Those who serve the end client, people who have temporary translation needs, and those who serve other corporations, multinationals, or local companies with global aspirations. The first type still employs old methods, heavily dependent on the skills and memory of the linguist, with little CAT tool use. The second type has been using contemporary methods for more than a decade now. They attend international conventions, use all kinds of software, including MT, work with all MLVs and LSPs worldwide, and they are well-equipped to compete internationally. As long as the trend with globalization of industries and the demand for translation continues, Turkish translation industry and its major actors will continue thriving.

— Do you think it makes sense for agencies to perform services focused on countries and marketplaces other than the one they are based in?

The markets and their actors are not uniformly equipped at the moment. Some markets and their LSPs (if any) are not up to world standards yet, and LSPs from other countries can bring those markets higher standards with their intensive software use and better management processes. However, their advantage will eventually end, and local competitors, having learned from those pioneers, will use their home-court advantage to dominate their own market.

— In-house translators or freelancers?

We believe every language company should still have in-house resources to provide the best quality and timely service. We have a pool of freelancers with whom we have been working for a long time as well. However, depending solely on freelancers brings risks by definition. Too small a freelancer pool, and you are in danger of losing jobs due to availability problems; too big a freelancer pool, and you are in danger of compromising quality due to stability and uniformity problems.

Thankfully, Smartcat gives LSPs a good chance to create better managed freelancer pools that can access the same TMs and termbases to provide higher quality and more uniform services.

— What are the biggest difficulties a project manager has when starting a new project?

The biggest difficulties when starting a new project is with the instructions and proper communication with the client. If the instructions are not clear/complete and communication with the client is not perfect, the linguists are helpless and everything can go wrong. The project manager must know and foresee the requirements of the project and make every effort to clarify the details with the client before starting a project. The best project managers are those that lead and educate the clients who do not have experience in procuring language services.

Would you say it is important that a translator becomes acquainted with a project individually rather than as a subject field for a proper translation service (and others)?

It is important that a translator internalizes the details and terminology of the project individually, but I believe the subject field comes first. If a translator dives into a project without proper knowledge/experience on the subject field, it does not help much however hard they work on the specifics of the individual project. On top of that, the instructions or the experience relayed from the owner of the project may not be sufficient/correct to help handle the project perfectly. Therefore, experience in the subject field should always be a priority.

— Do you have any thoughts on the educational system for translators and other language specialists in Turkey?

It is no different than other fields or most other countries. The university does not graduate students equipped with the skills required in the industry. Considering that the university is not a vocational school, nor should it do so. Unfortunately, I don’t think most schools are able to equip the students with skills required for their own aims either. We feel lucky we are now positioned to be able to work with the brightest talents from the best schools in Turkey. Of course, the graduates are not ready to produce perfect translations on their first day, or their first year, but they start getting compliments from the clients in a few years and make us proud. I am not sure if this shows that our linguists had a good foundation in school, if Saylon trains them well, or we just pick the brightest and they would be successful in any job anyway.

— What are the services that Saylon offers?

We offer all kinds of language and project management support, from DTP services to LSO. Depending on our customers’ needs we organize the translation, localization, proofreading, subtitling, transcription, editing, review processes as well as voice-over services. Saylon works with Medical, Technical, Engineering, Gaming, IT and Software, Website, E-Learning, Compliance, HR, Finance and Legal fields. Except for the mentioned LS directions, we have a Regulatory Affairs Department which provides services for Marketing Authorization Application (TEP and preparation of documents in eCTD format). Our experts take care of variation applications on the MA files when the client needs, as well. Saylon is well experienced with almost all kinds of the current CAT tools so we are always ready for new challenges.

— How many languages does Saylon cover? Would you say it is worth it to expand to new language pairs?

Our main language combinations are historically English⇄Turkish, however we have resources for covering German, Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic, Russian, and Japanese as well. Recently we have added the Turkmen language as a target and hope this direction will reach significant demand in the nearest future. It is essential to expand to new language pairs, because business should be well-balanced between supply and demand.

— What is Saylon’s approach to hiring new members? What about hiring freelancers?

We have two separate approaches for full-time translators:

  1. Hiring highly talented new graduates to be used in general fields and easier tasks in the short term, and to be trained as editors and/or to become specialized in certain fields in the long term

  2. Hiring seasoned linguists with vast experience and/or experts in certain fields.

Using freelancers is the ideal solution for any LSP, but in reality, depending solely on freelancers can still create quality and availability problems and hurt our business. New technologies, such as Smartcat helps us manage the freelancers better and increase quality. The future surely belongs to freelancers and to the LSPs that have the strongest freelancer pools.

— What are your thoughts on the partnership with Smartcat?

We have high hopes with Smarcat. Traditionally, Saylon and all other LSPs in Turkey invest a great time in the selection, training, management, and payments of freelancers.

We believe Smartcat will help both Saylon and our industry a lot in this regard and save us valuable time while increasing quality as well, thanks to the other wonderful tools within the system.

— What motivated you to partner with Smartcat?

We were already looking for a partner that would help us go beyond the current technological trends in our industry and Smartcat was the perfect match for this. We are also very happy with the relationship we have built with Smartcat team in a very short time.