Localization Leaders: Meet Fiverr’s Valeria Balitsky
This month, we sat down with Valeria Balitsky, Head of Localization at Fiverr. Fiverr is an online marketplace that provides talents all over the world with a place to offer and share their services, and it is currently available in seven languages.
Read on to learn what brought Valeria to Fiverr, how the localization industry has evolved, and her advice on how multilingual brands should approach localization.
Thanks for meeting with us, Valeria. Let’s start with a bit about you and your background. How did you end up in the localization industry, and what brought you to your current position at Fiverr?
I started working in the localization world in 2002, back when the word “localization” was barely heard of. I am originally from Brazil, but I moved to Israel and began my studies in History. During my studies, I always did a lot of translation jobs to survive, and I’ve always loved anything related to content, etymology, language technical aspects, and logic.
When I was about to finish my masters in Tel Aviv, I found a freelance, English to Portuguese translation job at 888, an online gambling company. Over time, my role evolved from freelance translator to localization project manager, program manager, internationalization expert, and then head of localization and content. I spent 19 years at 888, and I learned everything I know today through experience and research on the internet.
By the time that I left 888, we had all the processes in place so that all our products were supporting localization very well and I only had to interfere with new products or integrations. Fast forward to now, Fiverr wanted to become multilingual, so I came to help.
The computational linguistics world is divided into two axes: localization and internationalization. For a company to function well, these two axes must work together.
Wow, sounds like you’ve had an amazing career! As someone that’s been in the localization industry since its very beginnings, how else have you seen localization change in the last 20 years?
Localization has evolved as the world has evolved. When I started, we didn’t even have Google the same way we do today. Back then, “localization” and “internationalization” weren’t a part of the jargon yet. It was a time when Windows didn’t even support Unicode. We had to restart the computer to write different alphabets for Eastern European, Western Europe, Cyrillic, Hebrew, etc. Emails would come back in gibberish, and web browsers wouldn’t support certain languages. So, you can say we had fun.
Since then, things have progressed a lot. With this new role at Fiverr, I’m able to compare all the other facets of localization. In my previous role, I became an expert in the world of gaming localization and internationalization. Now, I’m working in a marketplace business, which is a whole new world.
For example, all the search engine aspects, user-generated content, and how the algorithm deals with it — all of it is new to me. Nevertheless, the basics and foundations of localization stay practically the same.
It’s amazing how localization has evolved with the times. Today, employees (or even entire teams) dedicated to localization have become a necessity for many brands. Based on your experience, what do you think is the best way for global companies to set up their localization teams?
The computational linguistics world is divided into two axes: localization and internationalization. For a company to function well, these two axes must work together. If you have a multilingual company and you are only dealing with localization, you are wasting money and your product may fail. If you don’t have any technical support, it’s like being a product manager without developers to produce what you are requesting. You can have an army of linguists in your company, but if you don’t take care of the basics (the infrastructure and the source content), it will be a huge waste of money. And there’s a good probability your product will fail in most locales.
Once you have the technical knowledge, you can improve all the services in your company: from connectors to code, your UI, recycling content, and templatizing content. All these practices will allow you to save money with translation, maintenance, and avoid surprises.
It’s also important to keep your linguists in one localization department under one person. Once you spread your linguists across different departments, your content will end up being a mess even in the same language. You lose control over the tone of voice and glossary, and it becomes more difficult to pinpoint the issues you may be having with the UI. Like the localization experts, the localization and internationalization teams must work closely so they can understand each other’s pains and improve together.
Beyond savings, it’s important to determine the cost of the localization as well. If you only focus on the opportunities in a locale without accounting for the costs, you will get a big demand in the company for entering new locales.
Since localization management is still a fairly new company role, many employees in these types of positions struggle with gaining budget, resources, and recognition of localization’s importance. What tips do you have for l10n managers looking to gain additional company resources and prove that localization is worth the investment?
The issue of resources is true for every company, especially in hi-tech. And it’s an issue for all teams, not just localization. The unique thing about localization is that it takes time. Management isn’t always so patient with things that take time. Working with analysts helps with foreseeing the ROI of entering a new locale, including team, translations, marketing campaigns, and development costs. Consider the savings that will come from improving the code and recycling content in this very ROI.
Beyond savings, it’s important to determine the cost of the localization as well. If you only focus on the opportunities in a locale without accounting for the costs, you will get a big demand in the company for entering new locales. Without any infrastructure or technical support to properly perform all the needed tasks in scale, you are going to struggle with having to manage a huge number of languages with a very small group of localization project managers.
The main use case I think of is, “How much can I save in translation costs?” Everyone knows when you’re entering a new country with a new language, the money is in the ground, and you just need to go dig for it. The question is how you will dig it up. You can use resources and time testing every little thing, or you can give the time necessary to settle into the country. With time, people will begin to know you as a very good product that feels local to that locale, and then the money will start showing itself. Also note the timing for entering new locales – localization can be surprising if socio-economic-political aspects are not taken into account.
That’s great insight, localization certainly requires patience. And finally, what piece of advice do you have for those working in localization or who want to enter the field?
Self-learning. Read articles and listen to podcasts, and just be thankful that you have the resources. Twenty years ago, none of it existed. Nobody will come with a spoon and feed you with localization knowledge. You must read and learn a lot on your own. And make sure you ask for advice. This subject is just fascinating and there are plenty of people out there just waiting to introduce you to this new world.