As a language nerd, firmly embedded in the humanities and liberal arts since childhood, I never expected that I would ever work in any kind of tech, never mind a tech startup! That this tech startup would, on top of that, have a medical focus – childhood me would basically just have laughed in disbelief.
Yet here I am. How on earth did that happen? Well… At the same time I started developing my language, translation, and interpreting skills properly at university, I also started dating a medical student. Medicine, and the language and communication in and around the medical field, suddenly became a much bigger part of my life.
This med student and I found a mutual interest in the space where language meets medicine, and by now we have spent years talking about this topic (as it turns out, the humanities and the natural sciences go quite well together!).
I became an interpreter, a translator, and a linguist, and I worked in multiple other fields – never really finding a place to settle. There’s always so much more to discover! I realized freelancing was a way forward, but establishing yourself in the language business can be a slow process. While getting started, I came across an ad in a facebook group for language workers.
A company called Care to Translate was looking for someone to take charge of their language projects. It seemed like a perfect fit: it gave me a way to focus on languages, but also on medicine (putting to use all the medical stuff I’d picked up). As well, I could work towards the goal of improving access to healthcare for underprivileged groups in society. It had become abundantly clear to me, as I gained more insight into the interpreting market and the healthcare system, that severe language issues were affecting the quality of care.
Access to medical care is one of the foundations of a just society, and so is the right to your own language. In Care to Translate, I saw an alignment of these values and a way to put my knowledge to good use.
I finally joined the team in late October 2018. Since I was employed part-time elsewhere, I joined Linus and Annie one day a week at the Sting office, where Annie started handing over more and more language-related stuff to me. When my other contract ended in January, I moved in more fully and made Care to Translate my main home and focus.
When starting a new job, naturally there’s a lot to learn: you have to pick up company culture, how the team communicates, who is responsible for email, and so on. When you join a startup, there’s an added complication: no one else really knows these things either…
In the beginning, we spent quite a bit of time just figuring out how I fit into the long-established (circa 4 months…) team of Linus and Annie, and just what I was supposed to be doing. We knew it had to do with languages, but what exactly did that include? This process wasn’t really made easier by the fact that I was also working at another job, and had a teenage puppy at home!
After Christmas, things started taking more shape, not least because Maja joined the team. Suddenly, there were four of us! Now we really HAD to get some proper structure going, and I think we all learned quite a bit in this phase. I know that I did! We started ironing out some wrinkles, and when we moved to our own office on February 1st, we really started feeling more on track with this “company”-thing.
At the end of January, I was presented with a new challenge: an intern. As I had then been working in a more focused way for about three weeks, I was, understandably, a bit nervous. Try explaining what you’re doing to someone, all while trying to figure out what you should be doing… Phew!
In the end, it worked out fine, and our intern Sibel (who thankfully didn’t have to rely only on me) performed some excellent work, and provided us with a lot of help and information that we will continue to build on for quite a while. It was definitely a learning experience for me, but I’m so happy that Sibel decided to apply for an internship at Care to Translate. And that she put up with us all through the chaos of moving our offices and working out new routines. Thank you!
In the context of Care to Translate, being the Translation Manager basically means handling the flow of all the phrases and translations that end up in the app. Every single phrase that you see in the app has passed through multiple stages, and most of these stages have been overseen by me (previously Annie). From the first formulation of a phrase, to medical quality control, and into the first round of translation. Then onwards to back translation, parallel reviewing and tweaking, and more checks to make sure the medical stuff hasn’t gotten lost in translation. Once the list is translated and approved, it needs to be recorded and edited, and then finally it can go into the app! Once there though, there is yet another check…
If this seems overly complicated, remember what field we are working with here. Quality will always be at the core, because otherwise we can’t be the resource for healthcare services that we want to be.
Once something is in the app, hopefully everything is fine, but as we all know – sometimes mistakes happen anyway. I know, I should be saying that our translations are always super perfect and that there are never any issues whatsoever, but as a linguist (and as a human!), I simply can’t. Language is complex and human error is unfortunately a thing. All I can say is, we do our very best to check the quality, with multiple translators and multiple reviews per language, and most of the time it does actually seem to work.
Project managing of course also involves talking to people. After all, these phrases don’t translate themselves! Therefore, the other big part of my job is maintaining our translator network, making sure that all the admin around our multilingual staff is on track. This involves anything from signing contracts, to figuring out a different way to say “obstetric vacuum cup” in a certain language. Other things do turn up for me to handle, but translators and translations take up the biggest part of my days.
The fun thing about working with language and people: I never entirely know what’s coming, and I get to stick my nose into an enormous amount of different things – things I never would have expected! I love that I have the freedom to shape my own work around my core responsibilities. I get to apply all of my capabilities and knowledge, whether it be language related or not, and on the way I am actually doing something useful. This makes me happy, since I always felt a bit bad about being more of a “general knowledge” type of person instead of a specialist.
I won’t lie, a lot of things in the tech startup world confuses me. Weird concepts! New terminology! What on earth are B2B and USP? And, while I have to say I have a good grasp of a lot of medical terminology, I am in no way a medical professional.
On top of that, I was the first person to join the team who isn’t medically trained, and I’ll let you imagine the situation from there… The first time was a whirl of new things, where I definitely flailed around a bit trying to work out what was going on and what I was supposed to actually be doing. By now, I feel like I’m getting the hang of it, and I’m starting to feel more comfortable in this world that was once alien to me.
When I joined, I had no clear expectation of what Care to Translate could be (I hope you’re not disappointed now, Annie and Linus!), nor what place I would have in it. I thought that you were onto something good, and it felt worthwhile, and I got a positive feeling from the way we talked about upcoming development, and I thought that I could probably figure out how to add myself to this mix in a good way.
Needless to say, it has turned out great in ways I couldn’t have predicted. Our team keeps evolving, and I’m continually amazed at how much we have managed to actually get done in such a short time. Also, importantly, we have fun – I really feel that we are coming together, both as a working team but also as a group of people, learning how to coexist in one small office.
One of the reasons I was attracted to Care to Translate was the opportunity to learn, both by combining my knowledge with others’ in new ways, and also by digging into new areas and finding new connections. I get to apply my expertise, working together with a tight-knit, motivated team, where my contributions are valued and we are doing something useful.
We will continue to grow and learn, and through this we will continue to work towards the goal of safe and equal healthcare for everyone. Healthcare and language are deeply connected, and both are part of the foundation of human rights, and that’s really at the core of what we do.
I hope you’re enjoying following along on our journey! We wouldn’t be able to do any of this without our translators, counselors, users, investors, and everyone else who shows interest and shares their knowledge with us. We really appreciate all of the input that you send us, because it gives us an opportunity to make Care to Translate better!