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Gerardo Konig photoI  felt really honored to be asked by Gabe to write my profile for this issue, and since he asked, here is my story.

How did I get myself in this profession? Mostly by fate, but I blame my mom. At home we spoke German; I learned Spanish when I went to school. I was sent to a British grade school in Buenos Aires. After that, I was forced to keep studying English during my high school years. With the conviction and the common sense of a teenager (a lot of the first, none of the second) I fought back and finally quit studying English at the time I finished high school. Really, we spoke Spanish in Argentina, what did I want English for!!! But, it was too late, the damage was done; all of my private teacher's hard work was ingrained in my brain. And curiously enough, it was at that time that I had to start using my English...

Remember that minds are like parachutes; they only work when open
I remember one day, when I was about 14 years old, I was coming back home by train. I sat across an older lady who had a dog on her lap. Soon enough the conductor asked her to leave the car (no pets allowed in the cars). Much to my surprise, the lady started talking in English. I volunteered to help her communicate, and I was amazed by the fact that I was actually able to talk to this perfect stranger in a language that was not mine. She lived with her husband close to my house, and I visited them a couple of times. Her husband was an attaché of the US embassy in Buenos Aires, nice people.

For my first real job, I worked in a camera store in the city of Buenos Aires, where our (unpaid) lunch breaks were two hour long. Soon enough I found out that the US Library (Lincoln Library) was five minutes away, had air conditioning, cozy couches, and all the magazines you could get at the time in the US. I started reading Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Boating, Flying, Times, Photography, Life, and the list kept growing. When I finished reading the current issues, I started working backwards, reading the old issues. I really loved to read about technical subjects, and during that period, my vocabulary did not just grow, it exploded.

After that, I got a job in a technical department of an American company (Clark Lift and Michigan Front Loaders). I was hired to copy blueprints. So, I mastered the use of the copier, and draftsmen would bring blueprints to be copied. I lasted one week on that job. As soon as the head of the drafting department realized I could read the blueprints in English, I was promoted "draftsman" and my job was to translate the blueprints.

During a downturn of the economy (frequent in Argentina at the time) they offered severance pay to those that would quit voluntarily the job. Since an uncle of mine who worked for an electrical engineering company had offered me a job as jobsite sub-administrator, I quit my draftsmen's position and moved on. Well, my first assignment was at a steel mill where we were contracted by a Japanese company, and their employees where fluent in English but knew little Spanish. So, on top and above of my job, I served as "liaison" first for my company and the General Contractor, and then I also was called on meetings between the GC and third parties. During my five years with this company, we installed a steel mill, a paper mill, and a cement mill, and with the experience I gained during those five years, I got a job as Job site Administrator for a civil engineering company.

I worked almost six years for the civil engineering company, and it was a continuous learning process. I loved my job, but I also loved having piles of technical documents that needed translation. Expensive machinery like bulldozers and cranes that require a lot of maintenance were being purchased with manuals that were available (at the time) in only one language: English. In our staff we had many highly specialized engineers; we even had a geologist! I was surrounded by expert (and free) consultants! While we were working on our last project, a hydroelectric plant on a lake, in Arroyito, province of Neuquén, I was approached by another contractor that started building a water processing plant next to us. They wanted me to translate their specifications and manuals.

In 1983 we moved to the U.S. I got a job doing cost accounting for a glass manufacturing company. I was also doing part time translation work. During those years I went back to school, got a degree in Business Administration, and later went back to work on a Accounting degree. I also took computer courses (that were very useful for my work). After eight years of working for the glass company, one cold day of December we were told that the factory was being sold to be relocated to Romania, and we were all laid off two weeks before Christmas!

After three days of reading the Help Wanted section in the paper I found an ad looking for a Spanish Technical Translator for a huge satellite project for Mexico. I decided then consciously, and deliberately, to pursue a career as a translator (something that I had been doing all my adult life anyway). I was interviewed, tested, and assigned the satellite job, and what an exciting job that was! We were working alongside the people that were writing the offer, and during lunch you could get an answer to questions like: What is the difference in temperature of the satellite shield when it is in the sunny side of the planet, and when it is on the dark side of our planet? They would discuss why satellites die of old age, and ways to prolong their life. For some of us these kinds of discussions are very exciting. I loved that job!

After this project I was hired as an in-house translator with a translation company, and I learned quite a bit about the business. After two years I left this company and since then, I have worked as a full time freelance English > Spanish technical translator.

Four courses short of getting my Accounting degree; I switched majors, and received a degree in Spanish Literature. I also attended the course that prepares for taking the written exam for the Private Pilot license which proved invaluable since for various years I worked translating Air Traffic Control manuals, proposals and courses. While I was working for this translation agency, I found out about the ATA, and became a member in 1992. I took (and passed) the certificaation (then called accreditation) exam shortly after. I am Certified from E>S. At that time I also got involved with a local group of translators, the Delaware Valley Translators Association, and eventually I became the Treasurer, and later their President. During my presidency, DVTA became a "Chapter" of the ATA. Currently, I am serving as VP of the DVTA Chapter of the ATA. I attended to my first Annual ATA conference in Philadelphia in 1993, and I really learned a lot, and enjoyed the experience very much. I was lucky enough to be able to attend all the conferences since then (all 16 of them). I also participated in the Spanish Division of the ATA, and I am currently the Administrator of the SPD which is 4324 members strong.

So, what is the advice I would pass on to new translators?

First: Study! Remember that minds are like parachutes; they only work when open. You have to approach every day with an open mind. This is a challenging profession, and if you work doing technical translations, since technology never rests, the constant updating of one's knowledge is essential. Make reading and researching a daily exercise. Attend seminars; learn from other people's experiences, successes, and mistakes.

Second: Participate in your local translators' organization or chapter of the national organization if you have one in your area. If you live in the USA, participate in the ATA, the only National Organization we have. Lend a hand to these organizations and become involved, sharing your talent and time with one of them is a very rewarding experience. Become a member of one or more Divisions from the ATA! Remember, if there are things you do not like about these organizations, the only way to change them is from within!

Third: I leave you with three words you cannot forget: Network! Network! Network!

Published - September 2009


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