Localization Leaders
Localization Leaders

Localization Leaders: Meet TikTok’s Zhongjun GE

Our latest Localization Leader is none other than Zhongjun GE, TikTok’s Localization Team Lead and founder of Panda Translations. TikTok is the world’s leading short-form video social platform, available in 53 languages with 10 billion DAU (daily active users) worldwide. 

Listen in on our discussion with Zhongjun as he details his journey to leading TikTok’s localization team, the top localization strengths at TikTok, key qualities to look for in a localization manager, and much more. 

Read the full interview, or watch the videocast below:

I’d love to start with some background on you and your career path. What was your journey like leading up to the localization industry and your role as TikTok’s Localization Team Lead?

I started as a part-time freelance translator in 2008 translating for a news magazine in China. And then in 2014, I started my own translation agency called Panda Translation. That was still a part-time job, like a side job. Then in 2017, I joined Airbnb their China office as the first localization manager there. Then two and a half years later, I left Airbnb and fully devoted myself to my translation agency until June 2022, when I joined TikTok to lead the localization team here.

Wow, amazing. Can I ask, just out of curiosity, when you were founding your agency part-time, what were you doing the other part of the time? A full-time job?

I originally studied journalism, so after graduation, I joined a company that makes banknotes in China as their Corporate Culture Manager. I did that job for seven years until I joined Airbnb. I believe that many of the things that happened to me were unexpected and not a part of my plan. So gradually, I just went with the flow and got to where I am now.

What role do you feel localization plays at TikTok? And how is your team or department structured?

I’d say the team setup at TikTok is quite similar to that of Airbnb. The localization team is under the design team, and the design team is under the product team. Within the design team, we have the content design team, so this way, the whole content pipeline can be under design. I think this setup is great for localization. 

What do you think is TikTok’s greatest localization strength?

I think our biggest strength at TikTok localization is that we have a team of over 50 content designers to create the source text. 

The source text production is centralized within TikTok so quality and consistency can be guaranteed, which is very important to localization. 

Since the content design team and the localization team are both under the design team, we can collaborate closely on setting up localization guidelines and syncing up terms between the two teams, et cetera. This way, more context can be delivered to linguists.

I think another advantage we have is being under the product team, allowing us to have a closer look at the high-priority projects that are going on. Considering the fact that we are a product localization team, it is crucial for us to get the latest info from the product team about future plans and priorities. All this information can be very helpful when we plan our initiatives.

Building a strong localization team is of course instrumental to the success of a company’s localization efforts. What do you look for in a localization manager you’re hiring for your team?

This is a very good question because no matter how your team is structured within the org, you need people to get things done, get better output, and achieve excellence. 

Firstly, in my opinion, the localization team should be seen as the business partner instead of just an internal vendor team because localization is the booster of business. 

We want to build a close relationship with our stakeholders so that we can boost the business and help more users understand the product and messages that we want to deliver so that users can better use the product. This is our mutual goal together with our stakeholders, and we want to support our stakeholders in achieving this goal. 

So, when it comes to hiring localization managers, I will ask them how we can improve in this aspect:

How do we better support our business instead of just playing with vendors and building up workflows inside the localization team?

We want to impact the whole business from the localization perspective. So I will ask a question like, “Other than localization, translation, and project management, what else can a localization team do in a tech company?” This way, I can find the best person who understands the real impact of localization and who wants to contribute to building an ideal workflow or work environment within our company and my localization team.

I think content, regardless of language, is the key for users to understand your product and the workflow you want your users to go through, so the localized content can be helpful to everyone.

Another quality I look for when hiring a localization manager is persistence or resilience. For many tech companies, localization is always the last thought, so it’s never prioritized or reached out to beforehand. Sometimes, we need to reach out proactively to achieve a goal. This goal doesn’t just belong to the localization team, but it is a mutual goal that can also benefit our stakeholders. This process can be challenging for both teams. I want someone to proactively look for solutions for different stakeholders and understand how to find a mutual ground that we can build upon together.

We know AI is a very hot topic right now. Although it’s not necessarily new to our industry, its capabilities and quality are rapidly developing. 

How do you feel AI impacts your day-to-day as a localization professional? Do you have any tips on how to effectively use AI to optimize the localization process?

I think the impact of AI is not just about localization, and frankly speaking, translation is just a tiny part of the capabilities AI tools can deliver. We don’t have AI capabilities in our localization management workflow right now at TikTok localization, but we’re actively exploring the possibilities and maybe by the end of this year we’ll have some real use cases of AI implementations in our workflow. But I can share a little story about how to use AI to help our stakeholders.

For example, once a PM asked me, “So I saw two different translations of this term in a certain language. What is the difference? I think this one is shorter.” But it was the middle of the night when I got that message, so there was no way to reach out to our vendors for help.

So I asked GPT this question and I got the answer quickly in seconds. I found that even though translating in this language pair is not so ideal with GPT, it can get back to you very quickly when you ask questions like these and most of the time it’s reliable.

Additionally, I think AI can be very, very helpful to SEO. In the past, you needed human writers to tweak your articles for SEO purposes, but now you can use the correct prompt and good examples to let AI write a post for you and achieve similar goals for your SEO campaigns. 

Thanks for sharing, Zhongjun! Let’s move on to our rapid-fire questions.

What would you say is your favorite language?

I’d say it’s Chinese because it’s my mother tongue. I think Chinese is succinct and concise, so you can express a lot of meanings with just a few characters. 

And what would you say is your favorite localization tool that you use?

I’ve done a lot of research on TMS systems, and I think that Smartling and Trados Enterprise are the best localization tools that I’ve used because they have a very flexible workflow setup and can help you with various localization purposes.

What’s your favorite place that you’ve ever traveled to?

I think Taiwan is the favorite place I’ve traveled to. First, you don’t have a language barrier there as a Chinese person, so you can speak fluently and freely with local people. I also think Taiwan has very beautiful scenes and very delicious food. I can feel the closeness between myself and the people there.

Awesome, and what would you say is the best localization advice you’ve ever received?

I think the best localization advice I’ve received is from Bruno Herrmann because I am so inspired by his idea of localization as a business partner, instead of a service team. At the end of the day, in any organization, team, or department, you need to contribute to the business. And at localization, we have, I’d say, the perfect chance to contribute to the business. This really inspires me. 

Yeah, that’s great advice. So what would you say is your localization nightmare?

I’d say a polluted TM (translation memory) because when you have a polluted translation memory plus careless translators, you will end up with a mess which can impact any future strings. 

And then who would you say is your localization role model? 

My localization role model is the Globalization Head of Airbnb, Salvo (Salvatore Giammarresi). Salvo joined Airbnb after I joined Airbnb. After he joined, we had a whole new way of working at Airbnb localization. He opened a new localization world for me. Before I knew Salvo, I dove into localization project management myself and he changed me a lot. 

And now lastly, which brand is your localization crush?

I’d say Spotify because every year I’m inspired by Spotify’s year wrap-up, and I believe Spotify has a very strong localization team.

Thank you so much, Zhongjun, for joining us today. I’m really happy that we could have you share your insights and just hear more about your experiences.

author post

Corinne Sharabi

Corinne is the Social Media and Content Lead at BLEND. She is dedicated to keeping global business professionals up to date on all things localization, translation, language and culture.


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