Sébastien Rolland

Interview with ITIA member

Sébastien Rolland

from Members' Corner in ITIA Bulletin 2022/2

Describe yourself professionally in a few lines.

My name is Sébastien Rolland and I am a professional member of the ITIA. I have over 17 years’ experience in the localisation industry (client side, vendor side, freelancer side), allied with a unique technical and scientific working experience. In September 2010, I started my own business in Ireland, offering a wide range of linguistic services (translation, reviews, QAs, etc.), mainly on IT, marketing, technical & scientific projects. Against all odds, I’ve recently accepted to join an IT security company as a part-time Localisation Marketing Programme Manager.

When and why did you decide on a career in translating/interpreting?

I had a late calling. I studied sciences but always had an interest in French and foreign languages. Even the year of my ‘bac scientifique’ (equivalent to the leaving cert), I had kept 9h of language courses (English, German and Latin) because I simply couldn’t choose. In 2005, with a PhD, a postdoc in NUI Galway and 2 years living in Ireland, I wanted to try something different. The localisation industry (where the technical and languages mix) sounded a great field for me. I worked 5 years in project management before deciding in 2010 I really wanted to do something with my ‘French competencies’.

Name the most important thing you did that helped you launch your career.

While I had already some fields of expertise, language skills, CAT tool experience, work connections and knowledge of the industry, I didn’t have a piece of paper saying “that guy can translate”. I was accepted in a 3-year translation course in France, but it would have been too long. I took a shorter course (with regular assignments) from a Dublin agency and secured a certificate in French translation. Of course, this didn’t open all the doors, but it gave me confidence to apply to various agencies and feel less like a fraud. I didn’t get any favours and had to pass translation tests like any other translator.

How important are training and qualifications for a career in translating/interpreting.

It’s obviously good to have some qualifications or training to have an advantage compared to ‘generic translators’, but the most important is: can you translate real documents accurately, on time and on budget?

Early in 2021 I managed to pass the ITIA Professional Membership Exam (Technical). While I didn’t really need it at that time, I thought it would be good to have it in case ‘something happened’. And, Murphy’s Law applied – I was quite happy to add this extra credential to my CV when I had to find new clients towards the end of 2021.

How do you find clients?

ProZ.com is a good start (Job listings + the Blue Board to check agencies credentials), but nothing beats professional referrals, so I always try to stay connected with various stakeholders just in case. In the past I did also gain direct clients by attending local business events (Chamber of Commerce + business shows).

The best is when clients find me! It’s important to have a presence in various media (LinkedIn, Google Business Profile, website, etc.) to encourage potential clients to contact you.

Do you think it is necessary to specialise?

Yes, it’s good to have expertise in some subject matters, but you can’t be a specialist in everything. Without my technical and scientific background, I wouldn’t have stood out. Note that I am fully aware of my limitations and wouldn’t rush to translate literary and legal texts, for example. I just don’t have the right style and proper training.

What is your favourite type of text/assignment?

In my first few years, I did enjoy transcreation as the projects were short and fun but required a lot of brainstorming.

Currently, I do enjoy assignments about photography (photo editing software, user guides, websites) as this is a personal passion and it allows me to continue learning while working.

Overall, I try to diversify clients, projects and tasks (translation, proofreading, LQA, etc.) as I just can’t translate 8h a day.

What is the best/worst thing about being a translator/ interpreter?

Best: The power to say “No”. It’s nice to help if you’re available, but only you can decide what’s good for your business and personal life, so avoid “mission impossible”. In a nutshell: “Your clients’ lack of planning is not your priority”.

Worst: The fear of uncertainty. Translators’ life is usually made of feast or famine. Even after years working on a particular account, someone somewhere can always decide to change a company’s strategy and blow your business model. Compared to a lot of my peers, I’ve been lucky to have had over 9 consecutive years of regular work. However, I did experience a major setback last year, losing 2 main accounts (80% of my revenue) in the space of 2 months. I reacted very quickly, updated my CV, applied wherever I could and contacted lots of connections. I had quite a few scary weeks with very little to do, while bills kept on coming. Amazingly, I think I am now better off…

Is it possible to have a good standard of living?

Yes, but it is easier to get requests in my language combination as the demand is high throughout the year compared to others. French is often ranked as a “Tier 1” in big companies, along with German, Italian and Spanish.

Of course, it also usually means working hard and being ready to sacrifice some hours at weekends and holidays in order not to lose some clients/accounts.

What advice would you give someone thinking of embarking on a career as a translator/interpreter?

Be prepared to have a few low months when you start. Take advantage of that free time to polish your CV, build your profile online, attend training/business events (always have a business card!), carefully check and target the agencies/clients you would like to work with… It’s exactly like job hunting: you have to prove you’re a good asset.
If a company or agency asks you to do a test, don’t rush, do research, be thorough and explain your translation choice well. One of the first tests I did was full of catches and needed extensive research. I likely spent 6-7h on it, but it allowed me to earn over €300K over 9 years, so I think it was worth sacrificing a few hours.