Ab HoC

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About this blog

Random (but mainly translation-related) thoughts from SmartCAT's Head of Community. Anything that is too personal, haphazard or offtopic for the company blog

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The Secret Knowledge

58a715bf514ed_Whatanirony-Wekeeplookingforthesecretknowledgeallaround.ButinmycaseIfounditinside..thumb.jpg.d87606b4910f36ff0f1689cb40ddc829.jpgIn our last webinar for beginning translators, Una said that there is no secret knowledge that would let you magically start getting clients. And if there were one, somebody would have by all means already divulged it somewhere on the web.

I readily agreed, but this actually got me thinking. What if such secret knowledge exists? Not just for getting clients, but to achieving success in general — whatever "success" means for you.

And I realized that, at least for me, it does.


Back in 2012, my professional situation was pretty much hopeless. For the last three years I'd been working in the Russian office of a German telecom software vendor, and it had gone broke overnight in early April. Luckily, I managed to get some compensation from it before it dissolved into nothingness. 

So what do you do when you have no job, most of your past clients have all but forgotten you, and you have just enough money to let your family sustain the next half a year or so? I guess you turn on “fuel economy” and either go looking for a “real job” or start freelancing as hell, taking on any job that comes your way, however boring or low-paid it is, right?

To me, both ways were wrong.

Instead, I used a hefty chunk of the money to buy three one-way tickets to Montenegro and give myself a one-month vacation to get my nerves back to normal and rely on the currents of fortune to bring some solution my way.

Which was a pretty stupid thing to do with no income whatsoever, right?

But somehow I knew it would turn out fine.

After a month, I decided that I would not be going against my principles to never take on work that I don't feel like doing. So I started searching for jobs that I would love doing.

Given my prolonged absence in the translation world, the search was going on rather slowly. In six months, the money bag had almost depleted, and the monthly income I’d reached by then would have been just enough to live on, but quite unlike the way we would want to.

So what did I do? I just worked on, still somehow knowing that things were going to improve.

On one of those nights, I was translating an excerpt from Russell‘s History of Western Philosophy. The fragment I was working on said, “There is here a reciprocal causation: the circumstances of men's lives do much to determine their philosophy, but conversely, their philosophy does much to determine their circumstances.”

And that’s when I had a sort of epiphany. In the top right of my CAT tool’s screen there was a button with a question mark. I had pressed this button so many times in the past to suggest new features and improvements that I had — as I later learned — become a household name in the developer’s support team.

But this time I was not going to submit a feature suggestion. I opened the feedback window and typed in, “Guys, are you looking for colleagues maybe?”.

Two weeks later I became a support engineer of that company, and three more months later — its “head of community”.

Today, some half a year later, I am the happiest worker in the world. I continue translating stuff I care about and, more than that, I’m helping other translators find their way in the profession. Everything turned out better than I would have ever dreamt of — and yet somehow I feel I knew it would, all the way.

I have no idea if this happiness will last for long. And I’m not holding onto it as some precious find that will be defining me for times to come.

Somehow, I know — and this is my Secret Knowledge — that everything will work out for the best.


What an irony: We keep looking for the secret knowledge all around. But sometimes, you find it inside.

That’s how I found mine.

And I would gladly share it with you, but I'm afraid — no, I hope — yours lies within you.

The question is, are you ready to find it?


Wearing souls

noun_733225_cc.png.100ce92b9c89498b045403d6f9e01061.pngThe creepiest translation I've ever done was that of Ted Bundy's final interview. In a way, it was ”nothing special.” There was no bloody gore in it, no step-by-step accounts of his murders — just his talking about what had led him to become the beast he’d become, and how he felt about it.

Yet, I had my fingers trembling for hours after I’d finished it, and nightmares for several weeks afterward (which still revisit me every now and then).

All the while, I kept thinking, “What the hell is going on?”


Fast-forward ten years or so, we had a webinar on transcreation with Tanya Quintieri (sorry for mentioning your name in this context, Tanya!). Among other things, she mentioned that in her translated copies there’s “not a single bit of Tanya” — it’s 100% her client’s voice. I replied that perhaps such “wearing masks and playing roles” is a natural part of a translator’s work — and noted jokingly that it could even be hazardous for one’s mental health.

But, jokes or not, I do believe that when we translate we “put on” the identity of the narrator.

It’s kind of funny when you are working on a contract and at some point start feeling for that imaginary lawyer who so genuinely cares about ”the Contractor’s being fully responsible and liable for any action, omission, negligence or misconduct of its Personnel.”

When you are translating the words of a serial killer, it’s anything but.

Digesting these words, and thinking these thoughts — thoughts of a person who had murdered more than a hundred people and was about to be electrocuted to death in less than 24 hours — made me, in a tiny but frighteningly perceivable way, become that person. My fingers are trembling as I’m writing this — so I guess a Bundy scarecrow is there to stay in the darkest convolutions of my brain.

But, on the upside, it’s a reminder for me to take seriously the mental effects — and aftereffects — of my work.

Ever since, I don’t take on jobs that I don’t feel like doing. 

And I don’t put on masks that I don’t feel like wearing.

Do you?


Just write it.

noun_49673_cc.png.a0157e71c4dec4e19ec77d70bc1f6b20.pngA lot has been said about the importance of writing for translators. Which makes sense: After all, it‘s what we write that our work is judged by. So it’s only natural that many translators want to start a blog. But far fewer do.

Why? Why don’t you?

I can’t read your mind, so let me tell you why I didn’t:

Because it was freaking frightening to come out in the open and divulge my thoughts — my self — to total strangers.

“Will they find typos and say that I don‘t deserve to be called a translator?

... Will my opinions make someone mad, and they will go all e-vendetta on me?

... ... Will I prove to know nothing about what I'm writing about?”

These were just some of the things I feared could happen.

And they did.

I’ve been blogging actively for SmartCAT for just half a year, but I've already stepped on so many rakes, the poor thingies start fleeing at the mere sight of me (though, with our newsletter going out to thousands of people every week, they’re likely doomed).

But guess what? I’m smiling.

I’m smiling, because with every hate mail I receive I remember someone saying that my writing made them want to become a

— Or made them become a better translator.

—— Or just made them smile — smiles are like boomerangs, I guess.

But the best takeaway comes from the inside. It’s the feeling of becoming a better writer with every word I type. I know I still suck at it — but, hey, I've got the whole life to practice, and some say soon we’ll stop dying at all.

Now I also started this blog — partly to let out thoughts that don’t fit in the company blog, but mostly as a challenge to keep writing one article a day, every day.

I don’t overthink the articles I post here. To be honest, I don’t even know what they will end up looking like when I’m starting them.

The point is not to bring home a message. The point is to write.

So don’t be afraid of rakes — they are not as painful as they seem.

And don’t wait when that perfect moment comes for your first article.

Just write it.


Thinking inside the box

noun_575753_cc.png.808cf1849b730b0a78ed9607b98add20.png“Here are six matchsticks. Your goal is to make four equilateral triangles out of them," said the teacher and started to read an apparently engrossing book. In a lame remake of the Gauss anecdote, I came back to him with the solution in a couple of minutes, to his displeased surprise.

I’m not saying this in a bragging way (okay, maybe just a little bit), but thinking outside the box has never been a problem for me. Whenever I face a challenge—be it in my work, business, or personal life—I instantly start thinking of unconventional and creative ways to overcome it. It’s not to say that I always succeed. Moreover, if my “creative ways” fail, I tend to give up pretty quickly. And that’s when I have to say to myself:

Sometimes, you have to think inside the box.

Take translation: Our work often demands creativity, especially in its literary and marketing “varieties.” But even here, sometimes translating is just translating (I know, I know). “Vladimir, ‘U nego est' koshka’ translates as ‘He has a cat’ and nothing else—there’s no need to spend half an hour translating and re-translating the same sentence,” a proofreader once told me.

The same goes for the methods I use to get new customers. I devise clever schemes to attract their attention, make them participate in surveys with the main goal to have them remember me once a need in translation pops up, and do a whole lot of other “outside-the-box” tricks. Don’t get me wrong—these are worthwhile and do work—most of the time.

But in the darker hours I think to myself: Wouldn’t I be better off if I just made a good-old CV and sent it out to 300 agencies, as Una suggests?

I don’t have the answer.

Do you? Are you the in- or out-of-the-box type?


And, by the way, did you already get how to make four equilateral triangles out of six sticks? No googling!


noun_29971_cc.png.4350e53ad71fda48e024527f37ecd567.pngThe place is overcrowded, and the three struggle to get to the counter.

The German tries to convince the crowd to form an orderly queue, but annoys the patrons and gets thrown out of the bar.

While the fuss is taking place, the Russian tries to sneak to the bartender, but gets noticed and is thrown out too.

A few minutes later, the Thai walks out of the bar, happily smiling and obviously inebriated.

"You rascal, how did you manage to get booze?", ask the other two.

"Oh, I didn't,” He replies. “But I was breathing so deep that the air got me woozy.”


This story (and the post below) might be full of stereotypes, but it underlines the amazing quality I keep noticing in the Thai people.

Where (stereotypical) Germans try to change the system to make it comfortable for living, or (stereotypical) Russians try to cheat it to make their living comfortable in it, (stereotypical) Thais change what “comfortable” means for them and live on, come hell or high water. Quite literally, by the way — in these four months, I've seen people challenging waist-deep floods while laughing and chatting to each other.

I've also seen business owners with six-figure incomes taking a nap on makeshift beds or right on the floor in their shops. When asked if they had anywhere else to go, they would give me a quizzical look — they were quite comfortable where they were.

Now, it's not to say that (stereotypical) Thais are angels: I still get frustrated when I think of my landlord Yod’s (that’s right) not being able to get his workers to fix our plumbing for three months in a row. But, having lived here for these three months, I am now much more relaxed (spiritual?) in my frustration.


So what does this all have to do with translators?

We tend to get frustrated a lot.

Sometimes a job turns out too complex, and our hourly rate plunges.

Other times we have to engage in two-hour discussions over a term with clients or proofreaders.

And all too often we feel underappreciated by the “industry.”

What I'm saying is: It’s great to find a way to thrive within this industry despite all its deficiencies.

It’s even greater to be actively changing it for the better.

But it also makes sense to remember — at least every once in a while — that, hey, it’s not that bad after all.

Or is it?


noun_651335_cc.png.f4345709831e63568f59834bed47784c.pngI was lying on the shore, looking at the clouds and trying to find familiar images in the chaotic fluffs of evaporated water. The last three or four all looked like... birds. Apparently, birdness and skyness were so closely interwoven in my brain’s fabric that my mind followed the easy path of seeing a bird in anything that appeared in the sky.

Suddenly I knew the first thing a translator can learn from the clouds: As valuable as your experience and the context are, they’ll often be tricking you into reading the source text the way you expect it to be read. It takes deliberate effort to unexpect, and to see something new, something that widens the repertoire of possibilities for all your future work.

As I was thinking this, I kept looking at the bird, and realized that it wasn't a bird anymore: It was moving, expanding, dissociating -- playing a part in some weird but fascinating motion picture. This made me understand the second thing a translator can learn from clouds: You’ll never get the whole meaning of a text by looking at static sentences. Only by proofreading your translation in its entirety will you be able to see if it plays well in its motion and continuous transformation.

With all these thoughts I missed how the clouds had completely covered the sun, and out of nowhere had come the wind. The drop in temperature caused by the loss of sunlight reduced the air pressure (P*V~T, remember?), welcoming hungry air masses to join the feast.

And that was the third thing I learned from clouds: Sometimes, jobs stop coming, or a client leaves a bad review of your service, or something else makes you feel like the sun no longer shines. Then, it's just a matter of physics that the pressure will drop. This depression is normal, and natural, and nothing to be ashamed of.

But it is also a physical fact -- one that could be the fourth thing to learn from clouds, but which I prefer to put together with the previous one -- it is a physical fact that, sooner or later, clouds will dissolve, and the sun will come out, and the future will no longer seem so gloomy. 

More often than not, it will seem bright, and sunny, and full of beautiful metaphors, where clouds are just an interesting detail to draw on your mind's painting, and not a piece of grey canvas to paint it on.


And what have you learned today?




Turn off Facebook. Seriously. And Twitter. And LinkedIn. And all the places where you’re spending the whole day pretending to work.

Don’t get me wrong: All three are great tools to find clients and partners. As you might remember, we even gave a webinar on social media marketing.

But for me they were also productivity killers. I used to check my notification feeds whenever I could spare a moment (and even when I couldn’t), wasting an enormous amount of time and mind power. 

So what did I do? Something very simple: I started scheduling my Facebook time. I set myself a daily task of checking into my “virtual society.”

The results were mind blowing. Even though I have more than a hundred of notifications every day, I spend much less time going through all of them than what used to pile up when I was processing them one by one.


First of all, I don’t need to switch between social and “asocial” tasks. When I “plug in,” my mind turns on the “Facebook mode,” and I’m free to explore the updates without anything holding me back.

Secondly, I’m not pondering over the content I’ve come across (or posted) throughout the rest of the day. My mind is vacant for other tasks I have — and I can now handle many more of them.

And, last but not least, I no longer spend my Facebook time reading updates that I don’t really care about. No more celebrity gossips and best-of lists that seem huge but have actually no relation to my personal or professional life. All this is out of my radar, and I can focus on what really matters — updates from fellow translators or really useful posts, for example.

Paraphrasing the maxim, Facebook is dead — long live Facebook (and the others)!

What about you? Do you sometimes feel caught up in the social networking loop? How do you get out?

Or do you?



I love email. I prefer it to all social networks, instant messengers and team chat apps (a la Slack). It’s amazing how a system invented in the 1970s (and hardly updated ever since) proves sufficient for 95% of online communication in the 2010s. Not to mention various plugins such as Mixmax and Streak that turn email (Gmail in this case) into a powerhouse of productivity and efficiency.

But there's one thing I don't use email for: managing tasks. 

I tried that, and it didn’t work at all.

First, email subject lines didn’t tell me what I should DO, and A to-DO list is called that way for a reason. When I see an item, there should be NO additional mental steps to understand what ACTION is expected from me.

Secondly, there were anyway tasks that were unrelated to email communication, so I had to keep at least two different to-do lists to attend to. This resulted in confusion prioritizing and categorizing tasks in each of them.

And, finally and most importantly, the view of an “oversaturated” inbox was plainly depressive (unfinished Gestalts?). And the more emails piled up in it, the more discouraged I was to do anything with them.

These were not the only problems, but they alone made it clear that this marriage wouldn’t work out. 

So now I turn all emails that cannot be answered really quickly into actionable tasks. Thus, “Re: Feedback on my last job” becomes “Respond to Nancy’s feedback on my last job”. The processing takes half a minute or so, but gives me clear understanding of what I will have to do with that task once I get to doing it. 

The specific task management system to use is another question. I ended up using Habitica (which I wrote about once), and my efficiency skyrocketed ever since. But I assume any environment tailored for task management will do better than email. Even if it’s just a pen-and-paper day planner.

But anyway, that’s just my experience, and I’d love to hear if anyone has succeeded in managing their tasks in email.

Did you? Comment or vote in the poll above!


58a6ccf9b04b1_Belongingtoacommunitybuiltaroundaproductyouusegivesyoupowertocontrolit..thumb.jpg.60f759ba4b0c4e3e998e218296c2ee7c.jpgI'm the “head of community” at SmartCAT. Although I still have a hard time explaining what this means, I usually say that my job is to get people talking. So why is this needed at all?

From the company’s perspective, the answer is clear. If your users talk, you can find out what they need from you, what makes them tick or sick, why they love or hate this or that feature.

But why does the community need itself? 

I believe that there are many answers to this, too, but I want to highlight one:

Belonging to a community built around a product you use gives you power to control it. 

This may sound pompous, but I believe that this is true. Remember what happened to Digg? By not listening to its users and ignoring their opinions, the king of web sharing is now dragging on its pale existence.

Similarly themed Reddit and Quora, on the other hand, made their communities a strategical cornerstone, and here they are, growing and thriving with direct involvement of the people who come to visit them every day.

As a community member, you have the power to make the product thrive or die.

It’s not only about suggesting features and reporting bugs. It’s also about talking to each other and knowing that, if something you don’t like happens or is about to happen with the product, you will have someone to stand for your beliefs and to make the developer change its mind — for everyone's sake.

What do you think? Is the community game worth the candle for you?


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