My ATA Conference Experience

by Veronica Sardon


It has been more than a year since I acted on a very unlikely hunch and reserved a room at the 2014 ATA Conference hotel in Chicago.

On the face of it, it did not make a lot of sense. Almost two years into my career as a freelance translator, which I was still doing on the side of my regular job as a journalist, things were not going as well as I had hoped. And I live in Buenos Aires, so going all the way to the United States for a conference my translation business could not really support sounded wacky at best. But I decided I could postpone any final decisions and just make sure that, if I were to go to Chicago after all, I would have a room at the conference hotel.

A few months later, my ATA mentor at the time strongly encouraged me to attend the conference. By then, I had done all the maths: the plane trip was going to set me back about 1,100 dollars, accommodation would amount to about the same, and I still had to add in the conference registration fee, division dinners and any expenses in Chicago. It sounded absolutely crazy, and I told my mentor just that.

He insisted, however. He clearly thought it was worth it, even at that cost. That left me thinking, and by the end of August I had bought my plane ticket.

I did not really know what to expect. I was relatively new to the profession, and since I had not studied translation I knew virtually no one in the industry, even in Argentina. As the conference grew closer, I realised that I was obsessing about how much I had invested, and about whether five days in Chicago could ever justify spending 3,000 dollars. In particular, since I intended to make a living as a translator, would I get any actual clients out of the venture?

Fortunately, I changed my attitude in time. When I got on the plane to Chicago I was determined to just make the most of it, whatever “it” might turn out to be. Enjoying myself, meeting interesting people, and doing all I could to return to Buenos Aires with a sense that I had grown professionally were much more realistic goals than finding 2-3 clients to pick up my conference tab.

To cut a five-day story short, it was a fantastic experience.

It was not all easy, of course. I am fairly sociable once I am “accepted” into a group, but I am awful when it comes to introducing myself to strangers and making conversation out of the blue. So I started the conference quite slowly and had dinner alone a couple of times. Once, a thoughtful translator actually told me off for standing on my own, two yards away from a large group. I was supposed to introduce myself, she said; that was surely why I was in Chicago, after all. She introduced me to a couple of people around, but they were busy talking and I was soon standing on my own again. Mmm…why was I in Chicago?

And yet my luck changed just a few minutes after that. On the way to a division dinner, I started to talk to the man who happened to be walking next to me. When he said his name, I knew who he was from an ATA listserv, so I was impressed. And the longish walk became an opportunity to chat, which led to the opportunity to sit with him and other conference veterans at the restaurant, which led to an after-dinner beer with them back at the hotel, and another beer the following day. Soon, I was finding the odd friendly face in the lobby, during a session or at breakfast. Suddenly, I had developed the confidence to talk to strangers more naturally. Before I knew it, I had, probably for the first time ever, the feeling that I belonged in the translator community. Yes, that was exactly why I was in Chicago.

The sessions were mostly great too, by the way, but I could have found interesting webinars from afar. What made the trip necessary was the people I met, and they were worth it, hands down.

I might as well have bought my plane ticket to the 2015 conference the moment I landed in Buenos Aires. In Chicago, I had fun, learned a lot, and got to feel part of exactly the crowd I want to be a part of professionally. The conference became the confidence booster I needed to feel like a real translator. So I was both extremely glad to have made the investment and determined to do it again a year later.

Of course, I got back home without a single new client. The fact that I did not really measure the event in those terms anymore does not mean that I did not spend a few days on follow-up. But I stuck to my priorities and sent thank you notes first to the people who had made the experience so enjoyable. Then I wrote to a speaker that I thought was particularly good. And only after that did I write to 7-8 agencies.

Only a couple of them wrote back, although those included the one I would have considered my favourite. It was the usual thing: I filled out the forms everyone sent me, someone said my rates were too high, etc. The agency I really wanted to work with did not write back after that initial contact, but I remembered what I had heard at the conference and, in early February, I wrote to them again. Perhaps I had gotten lost in the post-conference hustle and bustle, so it seemed worth another try, to remind them I was available. Within two days, I got a phone call and a job, and I have worked with them on many other projects since then.

It looks like my trip to Chicago will pay for itself after all. The funny thing is, however, that after seriously stressing over it for weeks almost a year ago, I no longer really care. Growth is always more important than money. As great as my new client is, what I will always treasure is the fact that my first ATA conference experience brought me closer to the professional I want to be. See you in Miami!

About the author: Veronica Sardon is a Spanish journalist-turned-translator who has been living in Buenos Aires for close to 15 years. Before that, she spent seven years in Britain and one year in France. She has a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and a Master’s degree in Journalism, as well as the DipTrans in both EN>ES and ES>EN. As a translator, she specializes in international development, business, and the social sciences. You can learn more about Veronica on her website and blog and on Twitter as @wordassets.

The ATA Mentoring Program through the eyes of a mentor-mentee pair

With the deadline to apply for the ATA Mentoring Program for 2015 fast approaching this week—March 7, to be more precise—we thought this would be a great opportunity to showcase this hidden gem available to ATA members. But instead of providing a scholarly piece singing the wonders of this program, we found a mentor-mentee pair who was willing to share their experience.  Is this program right for you? Have you always been curious about it? Interested in taking your career to the next level? Looking for ways to give back to the profession? Read on! Continue reading

ATA Conference through the eyes of Newbies & Buddies

By The Savvy Newcomer Team

comments-150276_1280It has been almost two weeks since we all returned from Chicago, but it already feels like the ATA Conference was a long time ago. Every year, those wonderful four days fly by in the blink of an eye, and attendees (all 1842 of them this year!) will find themselves looking for e-memorabilia to remember and relive the highlights of the conference, reaching out to new contacts, sending notes to fellow colleagues who they had the opportunity to reconnect with – or even meet in person for the first time, like part of The Savvy Newcomer team!

Today, we want to contribute to the wealth of posts, tweet summaries, photo galleries, and even a video, of this year’s conference by sharing with you some of the comments we received about the Buddies Welcome Newbies event.

Last year, Buddies Welcome Newbies created a big buzz and received great reviews, but it was also acknowledged that there was room for improvement. Therefore, the team has begun looking at the opportunities created by past experience this year, and they also knew what to expect and prepared for it. The result: a hugely successful event!

If you were not able to attend #ata55 this year, we hope you find inspiration in the following selection of comments and that you will join us next year – whether as a newbie or as a buddy. We promise either way you will get hooked and will make it a regular on your conference calendar in the years to come!

See you in Miami!

 Buddies/Newbies program was SUPER helpful! There is so much that goes on during these 3 days, its fabulous to get insight from an experienced conference goer.

I just want to take this minute to thank you for the unforgettable experience I had at the ATA Conference; at first, I was extremely nervous, to say the least, but meeting you made a huge difference. You made me feel at ease, and part of the group; I felt I was not only a Newbie, but another member of the family. I have a greater respect for the field and I want to get as much knowledge and skills as possible, in order to honor the organization and the translators & interpreters that are making this world a better place to communicate

I loved the program! I was paired up with John DiRico and he was an awesome buddy, even though I know nothing about Wordfast 🙂  I also loved the fact that there were 2 newbies to a buddy. I spent a lot of time with my co-newbie.

I really enjoyed the conference. I thought it was a great experience, and I look forward to coming again next year!  I thought the newbies and buddies program was pretty useful! It was nice to meet a few people on the first night of the conference. I would suggest coming up with a more organized method to pair up newbies and buddies.

The information shared was wonderful and it was such a helpful experience. My first ATA conference would not have been the same otherwise.

After spending 3 days at ATA55 now I realize that I should have taken advantage of the resources available to newbies. I was not prepared as well as I could have been, and newbies next year can learn from my mistake of feeling lonely and at a loss for the first day.

It (the newbies/buddies program) was very helpful. I didn’t follow up with my buddy after the initial session (but I did say hi in the hall). It was really nice to talk to him in that first session – it made the conference less intimidating. Thanks!

I really appreciated the Newbies-Buddies program. Reading about it made me feel welcomed before the Conference even began, and the opening session brought me not one but many friendly faces to say “Hello” to during the next few days. My buddy, could not have been more kind and helpful, and checked on me every day. Thank you so much for your kindness and thoughtfulness in putting this program together!

Buddies Welcome Newbies at #ata55

By The Savvy Newcomer Team

belt-311820_1280The pre-conference event that was a resounding success last year, Buddies Welcome Newbies, is back this year and it promises to be an even bigger event!

Led by Helen Eby and Jamie Hartz, with the support of lots of volunteers, this program is designed as an ice breaker for those attending the Conference for the first – or even the second – time. The ATA Annual Conference is the biggest T&I event in the US, and walking around without knowing anyone can be a bit overwhelming.

In the same spirit of this blog, aimed at newcomers to the profession, Buddies Welcome Newbies is the session to attend if you are either a newcomer or an inexperienced conference attendee (or both!). Helen and Jamie have become the Fairy Godmothers of the Newbies and this session is sure to offer some great tips to help you navigate the Conference.

The plan is simple:

  • Attend the opening session of Buddies Welcome Newbies.
  • After the wonderful presentation given by Helen and Jamie, jam-packed with cool tips, Newbies are paired up with Buddies (final ratio will depend on number of participants in attendance).
  • Newbies and their Buddies make their own plans to attend a conference session together, have a meal together, etc. The number of activities and frequency is up to you.
  • Attend the wrap-up session for even more great information on what to do next and listen to presentations from guest speakers.

This year’s response has been tremendous and to this date, we have 60 registered buddies and 129 registered newbies. Haven’t registered yet? Not to worry, here is the link to the Buddies Welcome Newbies.

Although we often advertise this event as a great session for Newbies – and the benefits for them are apparent – the real stars of the program are the Buddies. We just can’t do it without their help, dedication, and willingness. A big shout-out to all our Buddies!

Registrations are still coming in, and we know they will continue even until the day of the event, but we wanted to take this opportunity to review some of the comments we have received so far, and address them the best we can.

Learn new skills Skills take time, but you will find lots of sessions that get you started thinking about how to do that! You may even find training programs represented in the booths!
Meet people Now, that’s easy! There are 1500 of them!
Tips about the ATA Certification Exam Hm… Scary. Yep. Many fail. You, of course, won’t! But really, just relax and do your best. Your business can go on whether or not you are certified!
Network Go to the Division dinners, the Résumé Exchange, the Brainstorm Networking right before the Business Practices happy hour, and see how you can connect with others!
Learn more about my field 175 sessions… Need we say more?
Negotiating and pricing techniques Sit down – coffee or tea in hand -, open your Conference program and study it! You are sure to find more than one session on the subject.
Tips from a friendly colleague, choosing sessions Your Buddy will be awesome for this! Buddies are there to help you break the ice with this scary crowd for a couple of days. Later, you might stay connected, or not! Maybe you will stay connected in a lighthearted way for a long time, no commitments.
I’m introverted Most of us are more introverted than we care to admit… Good thing you admit it! Just assume others are also looking for a friend. Your Buddy can help you at the opening banquet.
How to make the best of the conference This is our specialty! We are awesome at this! We set you up with a friend, who of course has all the answers (or not) but you will meet a friendly crowd. Just grab anyone with a red ribbon later in the conference, since they are the friendliest bunch in town!

Helen likes to go to these kinds of sessions:

Speakers she promised to support.

Topics she disagrees with.

Issues she is curious about.

Chances to just geek out (she did start out college as a med school student)

Take a session off and visit the booths when there is nobody there.

Take a session off to just go to something fun. An art museum, a walk along the lake, whatever. Take a break!

What you make out of the Conference is up to you, and your Buddy will be a friendly face who can provide general guidelines as to what to do, how to navigate the Conference, and perhaps share a tip or two about the trade; don’t expect him or her to be a Mentor, though!

So, get your notepad, tablet or whatever gadget you use for writing stuff down, and get ready to make the most out of your conference experience!

And don’t forget to leave us your comments below to tell us about your experience before or after the Conference!

Don’t miss out on one of the ATA’s most valuable resources—The Business Practices List

By David Friedman

speech-bubbles-303206_1280The ATA Business Practices Listserv (BP List) has without a doubt been the best thing about my ATA membership. The discussions on it range from advice on how to deal with contract clauses and how to vet clients to the differences between the bulk market and the premium market. It’s a place where all translators, regardless of experience, can give and receive advice and contribute to the discussions that define our industry.

One of the things that really piqued my interest when I first joined the BP List was that people I already admired as authorities in the translation industry, after having read their publications, like Chris Durbin and Robin Bonthrone, seemed to be very active on the list. I didn’t expect to be participating in discussions with them and getting their answers to questions I had right off the bat after joining the ATA and the BP List.

The types of advice you can get on the BP List include a better understanding of the translation markets, how to approach/deal with different types of clients, and how to take advantage of specializing in specific industries. There all topics often broached on the BP List and in publications such as The Prosperous Translator and The Entrepreneurial Linguist, and I feel that they can make a huge impact in the early stages of one’s translation career.

Because discussions on the BP List are not accessible to non-members, discussions can be very frank and sometimes even a bit heated, but the beauty of this is that everyone still tends to get along well—even right after passionately arguing opposing sides of a debate. The moderators are also good about intervening if something goes against list policy or gets too acrimonious.

One of the recent discussions which I personally felt was very interesting was on the differences between the premium and bulk markets. The lines may not be definitively drawn, but if we generalize a bit, we can identify the following typical characteristics of the two markets just to give you an idea of what they mean to the people on the BP list:

Bulk market

  • high-volume work at lower rates
  • less time spent on other aspects of the business apart from the actual translation
  • often associated with certain large translation agencies and machine translation/post editing
  • falling rates

Premium market

  • often associated with direct clients, but also certain premium translation agencies
  • rising rates
  • high demand for translators specialized in specific industries
  • more time spent on business activities (e.g. marketing and client relationships)

This is just a very generalized overview. To learn more, take a look at the following blog posts on the subject:  It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times: How the Premium Market Offers Translators Prosperity in an Era of Collapsing Bulk-Market Rates by Kevin Hendzel,  Post-slavery bondage and poverty by Kevin Lossner, and The Translation Market – Is it Really Understood? by Kirti Vashee. And, of course, join the ATA Business Practices Listserv.

In some cases, discussions that originated on the BP List have led to public blog posts and discussions (see links above), newspaper articles, and other forms of public debate. If you join the BP List, you can see the impact of these discussions for yourself, as the public discussions are often posted back to the list.

In early 2013, after I read The Prosperous Translator, The Entrepreneurial Linguist and other translation publications, combined with insights gained from the BP List and lots of in-person discussions at translation conferences and other translation events, I noticed that my translation career took a significant turn for the better. This shift, which enabled me to become more active in planning the next steps in my career, led me to get some clients of my own and the average amount I make per hour has steadily increased ever since.

I see this as only the beginning of a lifelong career journey and a taste of the opportunities out there, so I’ll have my eyes peeled on the BP List going forward as I try to keep moving forward to meet my career goals.
About the author: After being born and raised in South Florida, David Friedman moved to Sweden in 2006, studied German at Lund University, and has been translating full time since 2009. He specializes in translating corporate communications from Swedish and German to English. David is the founder of a local network of translators in Sweden called Lund Translation Team. He is a member of the American Translators Association (ATA) and the Swedish Association of Professional Translators (SFÖ) and has been serving as the coordinator of SFÖ’s activities for translators in southern Sweden since the spring of 2014.