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Interview with ATA Board Candidate Ted Wozniak


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Linda A. Marianiello photoLinda Marianiello: Since the purpose of this interview is to allow us to get to know you better, why don't we begin with a bit more information about you? You are a well-respected financial translator in the German-to-English language pair, and regularly present workshops at many national and regional translation conferences. You also teach German to English commercial translation in the New York University online program. Please give us a brief summary of your career path as a freelance translator:

How did you get started, and how were you able to establish a successful business?


Ted Wozniak photoTed R. Wozniak: My first translation experience came in the US Army after completing language training at the Defense Language Institute and interrogation training at the US Army Intelligence School in 1982. I was assigned to what was called a "Border Residence Office" on the Czech-German border. Part of our mission was to translate German intelligence reports into English. We also acted as interpreters when US soldiers needed to interact with local police or German border forces. It wasn't until years later, after getting a second bachelor's degree and working on a master's that I went back to translating as a freelancer. Part of my success was pure serendipity. Just as I put out my shingle, there was a major change in German accounting standards as they were transitioning from US to international standards. The rest was long hours, hard work, and support from my new colleagues online. They truly helped me become a better translator by pointing out online resources, assisting with terminology, and general advice on the business.

LM: How long did it take you to become a full-time translator in your chosen specialization(s)?

TRW: I continued to work my "night job" for about 2 years before I started having to turn down jobs because I couldn't make the deadline due to my other job. That's when I had to either "cut bait or fish" and decided to quit my other job and focus on translating full time.

LM: How was the American Translators Association (ATA) helpful to you in this process?

TRW: Unfortunately for me, not at all. But that was my fault, not ATA's. I was aware of ATA but didn't see a positive cost-benefit ratio when I was only making a few thousand dollars a year translating and had trouble just paying the monthly bills. While I did join the Austin Area Translators and Interpreters Association, the local ATA affiliate, I didn't join ATA until after my business was fairly well established. And I say it was unfortunate for me because once I did attend my first conference, I saw what I had been missing and what I could have been learning in those first few years assuming of course I could have afforded to attend any conferences.

LM: What are your future goals within the translation profession?

TRW: My first priority at the present is to rebuild my business as it has experienced a significant decline in volume over the last 18 months, presumably due to the Great Recession. And of course, I am running for the ATA Board of Directors in an attempt to help ATA become an even better professional association than it already is. Assuming I am elected, I'll be quite busy adding that to my current commitments as a freelancer, running Payment Practices, and teaching my new course at the University of Chicago.

LM: Tell us what Payment Practices is and how you became involved in it?

TRW: Payment Practices (www.paymentpractices.net) (PP) is an online database of information about the payment practices of translation agencies and other LSPs that freelancers can use to run a "credit check" on potential clients. It was started as a Yahoo Groups mailing list back in 1999 by Karin Adamczyk, a translator in Canada. In 2001, Karin decided she was unable to devote the time required to run the list and I took it over in November 2001. I ran it for free until June 2007 when I changed it to a subscriber-based online database. Not only is PP the "grandfather" of all translation payment lists, it is the only one that provides an entirely objective rating of LSPs-the PP Reliability Score, which is based solely on the LSP's adherence to the agreed payment terms.

LM: Please describe new developments in Payment Practices since you became List Owner?

TRW: As I mentioned, the biggest change was the transition from a free mailing list to an online database. That not only gave users an easier, faster and expanded search function, it also enabled me to add several additional features that enhance the information provided, such as showing the average ratings for LSPs, adding "comments" for information not directly related to payment issues, as well as other features such as the recently-added public "Nigerian check scam" database for reporting those scams that are directed specifically at translators and interpreters. I'm currently working with my web developer on adding a "rates" database to increase transparency about market rates for various language combinations.

LM: Let's move on to your nomination to represent ATA members as a Board member. You mention in your 2010 candidate statement that, after more than 30 years as a translator, you would like to give back to your colleagues in the profession. Presumably, you feel that serving on the ATA Board of Directors would provide an additional way for you to contribute to our profession.

In your candidate's statement, you outline 8 areas in which you believe ATA can continue to improve. Let's expand a little on what you say about them in your statement:

a. More business education: What forms would this take? Do you envision new programs, as well as the continuation or expansion of existing ones?

TRW: I don't think new programs are needed, but rather new ways of presenting information to the people that want it. Online seminars is one example, and ATA has already ventured into this area. Assisting with regional and local events is another area I'd like to look at but I honestly don't know enough about our resources to say how much we can do there. But I want to find out. And partnerships with other organizations such as the ALC or other professional organizations is another area to look into.

LM:

b. Complete the revision of the Code of Professional Conduct: What is the current status of revisions to the Code? What do you see as the next steps?

TRW: Since I'm not on the Board or currently involved in the revision process, I don't know the current status, nor can I address the next steps. But I do feel that it is extremely important to have a viable Code of Professional Conduct to serve as a guide for conducting business in the 21st century.

LM:

c. Revitalize the Ethics Committee: What do you see as the role of the Ethics Committee within ATA? Since it has been dormant for some time, what is the best way to revitalize it, in your view?

TRW: In an ideal world there would be no need for an ethics committee. But since we don't live in Shangri-La, we need an ethics committee to handle those, hopefully rare, instances when ATA members failed to abide by the Code of Professional Conduct. To be effective, that committee requires two things. 1) members who are committed to professional standards and fair dealing among ATA members and 2) enforcement tools to ensure compliance. Revitalizing the committee should not be an issue as I'm sure there are enough people among the candidates for office, as well as the existing officers, to staff the committee with dedicated members.

LM: d. Improve communication between members and ATA: What channels of communication would be most helpful in accomplishing this goal? You mention the Business Practices List, for example. Do you think the new ATA webinar program will help to facilitate communication and, if so, how?

TRW: To be quite honest, the new ATA webinar program took some of the wind out of my sails as that was an idea that I thought I might be able to propose. But I am very happy to see it launched. That program promises to be a very cost-effective way to get information to our members, while at the same time addressing the ever ubiquitous concerns about the cost of attending conferences. As far as e-mail lists go, it's the members themselves who determine success or failure of a particular list. I subscribe to several dozen lists and their success is totally dependent upon how actively the members participate in the list. And of course there's the new social media. ATA already has a presence on Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook. I'm not really concerned about the specifics of HOW ATA communicates to its members, but rather that ATA DOES communicate to its members, and does so in a manner that meets their needs, whatever they may be.

LM:

e. Increase efficiency and search for cost savings: There have been a number of discussions on the Business Practices List about the cost of ATA conferences and whether they can be made more affordable for members. Would you include conferences in your search for cost savings?

You also mention greater use of online channels of communication and "going local" as ways to make continuing education more accessible and affordable. Could you cite an example or two of how this might work?

TRW: I believe the ATA already does everything within its power to keep the cost of the annual conference as low as possible. Compared to other conferences of other professional organizations, our annual conference is cheap. However, that does not mean I don't understand that, even if they are a bargain, some members simply cannot afford to attend. As I mentioned before, the new webinar program and helping sponsor regional and local conferences can certainly address the affordability issue. Assisting state and regional groups with weekend seminars and the divisions with mid-year conferences, and not throwing up roadblocks to holding such events as was the experience in at least one division, would certainly be helpful.

As far as other cost savings in areas where we could increase cost efficiency, I honestly do not have enough information about the ATA's finances to provide specific recommendations at this time. But there are things that we could look into, such as eliminating or at least reducing the print run of the ATA Chronicle, and replacing that with an electronic edition. Publishing and sending the Chronicle is a major expense for the ATA, and I know that many foreign members would be glad to get out from under the surcharge they pay for overseas postage. The Board itself may be able to find ways to operate more efficiently, such as using e-mail circular voting and online meetings where that is more practical and allowed by law. This would allow Board business to be conducted in between regularly scheduled quarterly meetings, which could cut down on the number of agenda items to be worked through at physical meetings. But physical meetings cannot be done away with entirely, nor should they be.

LM:

f. Improve cooperation with the Association of Language Companies: One ATA member asks how you see your role as a director, given that our organization includes both freelance translators and translation companies? In light of this concern, how do you feel that the ATA Board can better foster relations between these two constituencies?

TRW: As a director, my primary duty would be to represent the voting members of the ATA. And only individuals are voting members, that is, freelancers and individuals working in the profession, which does include company owners and employees. Translation companies and agencies themselves are not voting members and therefore they are not my constituents. But they are stakeholders not only in our organization, but in our profession as well. Freelancers and translation companies areor should be—partners in a business model that strives to meet the needs of a third party, the end client. The Association of Language Companies is a viable organization that can effectively represent the specific needs of language companies and agencies. When the ATA was founded 50 years ago, there was no organization of any kind for either freelancers or agencies, which is why both parties are represented in the ATA. I can envision that, over time, the majority of translation agencies and companies may come to find that the ALC is better able to represent their particular needs than the ATA. Should that occur, it is possible that ATA may then be able to amend its charter such that its prime goal is to represent individual practitioners only. However, that day is probably far into the future, most likely well after I've already retired. In the meantime, ATA and ALC should be able to work together to further our common goals, which include client education, public relations, and translator professional development.

LM:

g. Model Contract project: We've been hearing about this project on the Business Practices List. What is the Model Contract project? What does it hope to accomplish? Who is working on it with you, and what is its current status?

TRW: The Model Contract project was an idea I, perhaps unfortunately, came up with after some heated discussion about "unacceptable" provisions in several contracts that had been sent to freelancers. The goal is to create just what it says, a model contract that can be used between independent contractors and translation companies to establish their working relationship. The model would contain recommended provisions to be included in any contract between a translation company and a freelancer. These provisions will balance both the rights and obligations of both parties. I currently have the lead in the project, being assisted by ATA Board Member Odile Legeay and Grant Hamiltion at the ALC. The first stage of the project, which was a review of a number of actual contracts and commenting on specific provisions contained within those contracts as to whether or not they were acceptable or unacceptable to either party, or were fair or onerous to one party or another was completed in June. Unfortunately, an extremely busy summer in terms of both work and my personal life prevented me from starting on stage two, which entails summarizing all the comments received and trying to come up with a list of recommended provisions for inclusion in the model contract. But this interview is currently the last of the pressing deadlines I have, so I plan on getting back to work on that and at least letting the other members have the review summary before the conference at the end of October.

LM:

h. Military linguist outreach program: Does ATA currently have a military outreach program? How would the program work?


TRW: I am not currently aware of any military outreach program by ATA. As a former military linguist myself, I am all too aware that most of the individuals who receive language training in the military, which by the way, is some of the most extensive available, at least in terms of listening and reading ability, never use these skills professionally when they leave the military. The program I envision would be a very simple one. It would consist of identifying those members of the military who have graduated from the Defense Language Institute as well as other service members with a "language identifier" and simply making them aware of our profession and the ATA. The mechanics would depend on the information that we can obtain from the Department of Defense or the individual service branches. It might entail simply sending an e-mail or possibly information through the mail.

LM: A number of ATA members have submitted questions. Why don't we address some of these now?

One translator brings up the issue of rates. He or she asks how ATA can help individual translators with setting rates, given that specific numbers cannot be discussed? What is your take on this, and how can the ATA Board address this issue without raising the specter of price fixing?

TRW: Given the current legal status, I don't see how ATA can help individuals set rates. Nor should it, in my opinion. ATA is not a guild or union whose interest is to manipulate the marketplace in order to create artificially high earnings for its members. What ATA can, and already does do, is publish the annual income survey. That survey contains information about the earnings of individual members in a variety of language combinations. That tells you what the market is and the market is what drives price. So while ATA cannot—and should not—do anything to "set prices", what it can do is help its members become better translators and differentiate themselves from the competition. And that is exactly what the annual conference does, and does well. The new webinar program and better support for regional and local conferences and seminars would also help individuals increase their professional skills and their business knowledge, which in turn, allows them to push through higher prices onto the market, since they are then providing a higher quality service.

LM: Another translator asks how translators can stay current over time. ATA offers many continuing education programs, as do many regional ATA affiliates. But what do you do each day, each week or month to stay fully informed in your fields of translation? How does ATA help in this area and can it do even more?

TRW: Personally, I find that my day-to-day work forces me to stay current on changes in my area of specialization. I subscribe to several electronic newsletters published by major accounting firms that relate to accounting and taxation in Germany, and of course the updates to the International Financial Reporting Standards. Regardless of one's specialization, it is important to read the professional literature. If you're a medical translator, for example, you should be reading medical journals in both your target and source languages. I would like to attend professional conferences related to German legal and accounting issues, but there I suffer from the same cost issues that others have discussed with regard to our own conference. It would be different if I lived in Germany though. I'm not sure there is a viable way for ATA to assist in "day-to-day" professional education. Just off the top of my head, maybe it could look into getting a "members" or "group subscription rate to some professional journals in a few major fields such as law and medicine. But I think this might be an area where our members themselves can come up with better ideas than I could. So I'll turn the question back to the readers—"What CAN ATA do in this regard?" Give the Board your ideas.

LM: A colleague asks a number of questions about the ATA Certification Exam: Why is he not permitted to use his laptop computer for the exam? He feels that, since this is how he translates in "real life," he should also be permitted to use a computer for the exam. Where is ATA in terms of computerized testing today? If elected, will you bring this issue before the ATA Board of Directors for consideration?

TRW: I will be honest and admit I know almost nothing about the current status of the computerized exam. I'm sure not only the Board, but the committee tasked with bring this to fruition is doing what it can within the constraints imposed on them by the project itself. Nor do I know the history of the exam or how it has or has not evolved. I would like to see this project "go live" as soon as possible, but only if it actually improves the exam. If the program is "buggy", excessively costly, or makes taking the exam more difficult than it already is, I would not be in favor of pushing it just so folks can use a computer. As to why someone can't use a laptop today, the only reason I can think of is security. It's quite possible someone could take the exam early in the year and simply copy the exam passages into a file. They could then sell that to other exam takers. That is why the proposed system should ensure that the exam itself cannot be saved on the computer it is taken on.

LM: Finally, have we covered all issues of concern to you as a candidate for the ATA Board of Directors? Is there anything you would like to add in your closing statement?

TRW: Thank you Linda. The only thing I would like to add relates to some earlier comments. Over the years I have often heard individuals griping about how ATA does one thing or another, or fails to do this or that. And that is fine. But what I would like to see more of, and here I am now calling on each and every ATA member, is to be an active communicator yourself. Don't just complain on an email list but also write to the Board members and officers. Bring up your ideas for improving ATA. If members don't tell us what they want or give us their own ideas, they leave the whole show to a handful of people who already have a lot to do just fulfilling their mandate as officers and Board members. If elected to the Board, I will rely on individuals to tell me how I should represent them. Remember, ATA exists to represent and benefit YOU; we don't exist to benefit ATA.

- - - - - - -

Ted Wozniak is a German-to-English translator specializing in financial translations. He has degrees in Accounting and German and has worked as an accountant in both the private and public sector. He has also worked as a stockbroker. Ted is the founder and owner of the translators' Payment Practices list and of the Nigerian Scams database. He is an active member of ATA and AATIA (Austin Area Translators and Interpreters Association).

Ted can be contacted at twozniak at rgv rr com



Published - December 2010












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