I was lucky to catch English to French translator, consultant, and OmegaT development manager Didier Briel between jobs for a brief interview. With a very interesting TM concept that sets it apart from competitive tools, regular releases of new versions, and commitment to listening to its users, OmegaT has been gaining momentum in recent years, and Didier has been instrumental to this progress. For example, it was under his leadership that welocalize, a major translation agency, made OmegaT its CAT tool of choice. Didier is also the driving force behind the great source of knowledge and support around OmegaT—the Yahoo user group. But while Didier devotes a lot of his time and energy to the project, little information is available about him as a person. This is why it has been my goal for quite some time to interview the individual I and many other people admire, and I am excited to bring this interview to you today.
How did you become a translator?
While my first career was in computing, I have always been interested in translation. I remember doing a “technical” translation in the eighties, because, in a computer shop owned by a friend, a customer complained there was no French instruction for the game he was buying. Later on, I did volunteer localization and translation for freeware (there wasn’t really open-source software at that time) programs on the Atari platform. In 2004, when the startup I was working with collapsed, and I was wondering what I would do next, a client found me on an Atari translator site, and asked me whether I would be interested in a localization job. I have been working as a translator ever since.
How does your translation work influence your perspective on OmegaT?
Being a translator (and the kind of translations I do) has a deep influence on my vision of OmegaT. I tend to see it more from the perspective of a user than that of a programmer.
How did you learn programming languages?
Initially, I was self-taught, mainly in BASIC and Z80 assembly. I took a vocational course on programming (mainly in COBOL) and computer-aided production management, which led to a job as a programmer for a planning and scheduling software startup. There I used Clipper (a compiled dBase clone), Turbo Pascal, and Delphi (Object Pascal). Later my career evolved to roles in which I wasn’t actually programing. When I started contributing to OmegaT, all I knew about Java was from a one-week introductory course, so I learned by doing it, and I’m still far from an expert.
If someone tells you there is no point in using CAT tools, what are some of the things you will say to “convert” them?
I won’t; they might be perfectly happy without one. That’s one of the great things with free software, you don’t have to sell anything.
That said, if asked what benefits I get from using CAT tools, I might mention “memory.” Being able to tell how you translated a sentence or even a phrase five years ago is invaluable. Then there’s consistency, through glossaries, the search function, and auto-propagation. Of course, if your text has repetitions, being able to translate thousands of words automatically is great. Going from segment to segment also helps in my translation process. Initially, sentence segmentation bothered me for “creative” texts and I would use paragraph segmentation, but I got used to it. If you want to get a “broader view,” you can always do so at the final revision stage.
Is it easier to develop OmegaT today than when you just started as a development manager?
On the whole, it’s certainly easier today. I have a bit more experience, and most of all we have wonderfully knowledgeable contributors, including Alex, our lead developer. The program itself is more technically complex than it was, but this is largely compensated by a small but very friendly community of developers.
What is the main driving force behind your involvement with OmegaT? Is it passion for translation or passion for software development?
Initially, it was certainly a passion for translation efficiency. It’s both, actually. Working on OmegaT is similar to specialized technical translation: you cannot be good at it if you’re not both a subject matter expert and a decent programmer. As far as software development is concerned, I rarely have to do the “funny things,” i.e., involving oneself deeply in the code and the algorithms, until you find a brilliant solution. It’s more like when I was a product architect or a marketing and strategy director: you do whatever is needed to get the job done, and the reward is the final product.
How do you strike a balance between your translation business and OmegaT-related work?
With difficulty sometimes. OmegaT used to be a hobby, on which I would work a few hours in the evening and on week-ends, with the odd free days (which we all experience as translators) to dedicate to it. At the end of last year, I started considering making my work on OmegaT part of my main job. That means I now have to find a fine balance between the two activities, but I no longer have to feel guilty when working on OmegaT.
Obviously, you would like to see OmegaT become one of the leading CAT tools. But what are your objective predictions about OmegaT’s future?
It’s very hard to tell. Functionally, OmegaT has made enormous progress in recent years, but it’s still hardly a real competitor to Trados Studio. I’m not speaking of ease of use, etc., simply of market share. That said, according to Kevin Lossner’s latest survey, we’re above Wordfast Pro, and close to Déjà Vu. I think the CAT tool market share will continue to be very fragmented, and that OmegaT will continue to rise slowly in that hierarchy. To what level is difficult to say.
If you use machine translation, how much does it increase your productivity as a translator?
I did try machine translation briefly. It increased my productivity (not drastically, but perhaps between 10 and 20%), but at the expense of my style. I didn’t recognize my “voice” in the result. After post-editing, it was decent French, but clearly not from me. What I sell to my client is my work, including my style, and I couldn’t sell that if I used MT.
In addition, machine translation can be very dangerous, because it often gives “perfect sentences,” except it omits a negation, so in the end it says the reverse of the source text. This is hard to spot, so part of what you gained is lost in double-checking for this kind of error.
It would be nice to live off OmegaT-related work so that it is not only a passion, but also a source of regular income. How close are you to that do you think?
Still far away, but, if 2014 continues on the same track as 2013, it is not impossible to imagine one day. Let’s say I went from pocket money to an actual part of my revenue.
This is the end of the first part of the interview.
Stay tuned for the second half of the interview with Didier, where he talks about OmegaT’s future, other CAT tools, and common complaints about OmegaT.