Meet Elena McDonnell: Linguist & Quality Expert
What does an experienced linguist and language quality manager get up to in an average working day? Welocalize’s Louise Law chats with Elena McDonnell about her career at Welocalize as a language specialist, her new role in quality, and her position as program director for Women in Localization.
Hi, Elena. Great to “virtually” chat with you today. Let’s talk about your career at Welocalize.
Hi! I’ve been at Welocalize since 2017. Like many others, I started as a freelance translator. Initially, I was providing ad-hoc linguistic support for a few different clients, but later became a dedicated Language Lead for a large account, whose language team now covers so many different locales.
It was a lot smaller when I started, but grew wonderfully in the last few years. However, my Welocalize journey did not stop there, and I moved into a Quality Manager role in May 2022.
How did you get into the language industry? Can you tell us a bit about your path to being a linguist?
I was always into languages and literature. Even very early on, I was always that kid with my nose in a book. So, naturally, that’s what I chose to study at the university, and then in graduate school, here in California.
Back in my romantic college days, I dreamt of being a literary translator. I didn’t quite end up in that world, but the localization industry welcomed me with open arms, and I never looked back. I worked as a translator, language instructor, and project manager before finding home at Welocalize.
Could you talk us through a typical working day?
Well, my days are extremely busy right now! I’m still learning everything about my new role, new team, and the new client account, which is quite complex. So, I’ve been taking many courses, trainings, and attending a lot of meetings.
At the same time, I’m still supporting the new Language Lead on my old team to make sure I set them up for success and the transition goes smoothly for everybody. But this is temporary, and I know that soon, I’ll establish a nice productive routine for myself. I’m very excited! Quality has been my area of interest for a while now, so this feels like a very organic career progression for me.
You’re also a Program Director for Women in Localization. Could you tell us a bit about that, and why you’re involved?
Women in Localization is an organization very near and dear to my heart. Our mission is to foster a global community for the advancement of women in the localization industry. I think the main reason it’s so meaningful to me, is because that’s the organization I wish was around when I started.
Their support and guidance would have been invaluable to me in the beginning of my career. Instead, I had to figure many things out on my own, and it was not always easy. At Women in Localization, I work as the Technology Program Director under the capable leadership of Olga Beregovaya, who is our Board Sponsor (and also VP of AI Innovation at Welocalize).
What qualities do you think make a good translator today? How do you think the role of the translator and linguist has evolved, especially with technology playing such a big part in the process and workflow?
Wow, this is a tough one! There are multiple aspects to this, I believe. Of course, language and subject matter expertise are important. But also, I think, just like in any service industry, you have to be able and willing to change with the times and with your customers. I remember back in 2006-2008, when working for a small LSP, I would often have to look for translators, so I would go through a lot of online profiles and resumes.
And I would sometimes come across linguists who were very anti-technology, or anti-change in general. They would express disdain for CAT tools or processes that were unfamiliar to them. That would always kind of catch me by surprise, and I would think: “Why?” If you have a chance to explore and learn a new tool or a new way to do things, why wouldn’t you? I understand that change is sometimes scary, but you can’t grow without it.
To switch gears a bit, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I love reading! I always have multiple books I’m reading at any given moment – usually a fiction and a non-fiction one, plus an audiobook I listen to when going for a run or walking my dog. Do you know that you can get audiobooks for free from your local library? How amazing is that?
I’m also a Mom to two wonderful and very energetic boys, so there’s never a dull moment at our house! What really relaxes me is gardening and being out in nature: sea, mountains, forest—I love them all!
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