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Featured Article from The ATA Chronicle (October 2014)

The Savvy Newcomer: One Year In
By Helen Eby, Daniela Guanipa, Jamie Hartz, and Mary David

One year ago, The Savvy Newcomer ( stepped into the role of a trusted advisor and ready resource for translators and interpreters just getting started. Along the way, the blog has also become a favorite read for veterans of the profession who find fresh perspectives in the “do this, don’t do that” advice to newbies.

Helen Eby, Jamie Hartz, and Daniela Guanipa developed the blog with the support of ATA’s Board of Directors and Headquarters staff (in particular, Mary David, ATA’s member benefits and project development manager). The idea behind the blog was to provide ongoing advice for those starting out in translation and interpreting.
The blog is not just for those straight out of college, but also for those who are investigating making the move from other professions.

In recognition of the blog’s one-year milestone, what follows is a conversation
with those involved with bringing the blog to fruition.

How did the idea for the blog come about?

Helen Eby: In 2012, Dorothee Racette, who was ATA president at the time, invited a group of people to brainstorm about how to reach out to newcomers to the profession. The idea that sounded most realistic was to create a blog.

At first sight, The Savvy Newcomer was "just a blog." It was an undeveloped idea, a place where we could provide information for newcomers. "Sure, we'll do it!" we said. Then we learned what was involved.

Many people provided support, advice, and encouragement. I have learned that amazing things can be done with a team where members have total trust in each other and nobody cares who gets the credit. We filled in for each other at times and had fun at our meetings, and in the process became friends. We have also learned a lot from the posts others have written. There have been good reminders, new ideas, and fresh perspectives every week.

Jamie Hartz: It was Helen's vision to reach out to students and budding translators/interpreters and to connect them with resources. It all hinged on other volunteers' willingness to see the project through. As Helen mentioned, we started out as a group who wanted to see something happen and talked about the best means to carry it out. We all decided that a blog was the best medium.

Daniela Guanipa: Fun fact: we found the name of the blog on our second try! The first name was "The Savvy Linguist," but everybody thought the word "newbie" or "newcomer" needed to be included somewhere. And that is how the name came about!

Mary David: A number of ATA members saw the need to connect newcomers of any kind--but especially students--with resources. Rather than just talk about it, however, this group did something about it and The Savvy Newcomer is the result.

How did you get others involved?

Helen: We asked them. Amazingly, they often said yes! They did so because they shared our vision. Now that the blog is "real," it is getting easier to get people to contribute.

Jamie: We asked one person to contribute and then asked him or her to share the content of the blog with friends and colleagues, and the whole idea garnered interest that way.

Daniela: I came into the picture through my connection with ATA's Spanish Language Division (SPD), where I was a member of the Leadership Council. Francesca Samuel, the division’s administrator, suggested to Helen that I could help with the project. Helen called me and we talked about her idea of creating a blog. I agreed to come on board.

Mary: We asked people to contribute, as in "picked up the phone" and asked them. We did not rely on social media; in fact, we did not tweet or post to Facebook at first. This was a very personal effort of committed volunteers, beginning with Helen who recruited Jamie and later Daniela. We asked colleagues to share the blog with friends. The effort just snowballed from there. So many people share the vision of helping newcomers enter this profession with the information and resources they need to be successful. Translators and interpreters are truly a generous community.

What was involved with setting up the blog?

Helen: Planning and teamwork. Here is a basic rundown of the initial process we followed:

  1. We met weekly for two hours for a few months.

  2. We listed possible contributors and topics.

  3. We developed a schedule. We tried to make sure that we would not have to write every week ourselves. To this end, we decided to have one guest author and one re-blog each month. Before the blog went live, we made sure that we had at least six posts lined up.

  4. We decided on the template for the look and feel of the blog. This is where Daniela stepped in as blogmaster.

  5. First Lisa Carter did the editing, and then Samantha Lisk came on board.

  6. We began the blog with a post explaining the purpose and vision for the blog.

This sounds frenetic, and it was. But it was so much fun, and it worked!

Jamie: We put together a team and divided up the tasks. We designated one person as the main point of contact, one person as the blogmaster, and one person as moderator. We now have an editor and backup editor, as well as a social media expert and other support roles. The contact person reaches out to authors and asks for posts, the editor revises them when they come in, the blogmaster schedules and sets them up, and the moderator follows up on comments and replies. Because we plan several weeks in advance, we are able to post consistently. This system really works!

Mary: We knew that the blog's success depended on teamwork and having a plan. Following the advice of ATA's Past President Dorothee Racette, we collected two months of content before launching. At the same time, we developed a schedule for how often, who, and what to blog. Most importantly, we worked for the future. The blog post you see today was written and edited six weeks ago.

One of the smartest decisions we made was to divide the tasks into clear responsibilities. Helen was named the main point of contact, Daniela took on the role of blogmaster, and Jamie became the moderator. That is not to say that our paths did not cross, but we always knew who was ultimately responsible for getting each job done.

We "met" several times a month through GoToMeeting. These conference calls were not only crucial to help us stay on track, but also to learn how to work together. We got to know each other as people with interests and families. It helped that our personalities meshed. We listened to each other, debated the pros and cons, and reached decisions together. There were no power struggles.

What challenges did you encounter and how did you overcome them?

Helen: We needed a blogmaster. Daniela showed up. When Daniela needed to go on maternity leave, Samantha Lisk volunteered to help out. We needed an editor. Lisa Carter said yes. When Lisa's schedule changed, Samantha took that role.

We needed basic advice. Mary David was always there. ATA Headquarters has been extremely supportive, and Mary is basically one of the gang. ATA's Board has also been tremendously supportive from day one.

Eventually, we needed another team member with social media experience, so we reached out to Catherine Christaki because she had been putting us on her "Weekly Favorites" on her blog frequently. She is now our backup blogmaster and Twitter master.

Jamie: The biggest challenge at first was getting volunteers who were willing to be in it for the long run. Getting a steady flow of posts was also difficult. Whether new or re-blogged, we needed to come up with one post a week and try to stay ahead of the game in case something fell through. We have developed into a great team.

Daniela: Finding people to write and promote our blog was a challenge. Of course, the blog is well known now, but that was not the case a year ago. Inviting key authors was very important. Now the blog has a presence in over 20 countries and gets a steady (and large!) number of visitors per week.

Currently, we are experimenting with Twitter, and this is where Catherine Christaki's experience with social media has been invaluable. We are also looking into creating a visual identity and have brainstormed about different options. I guess we started as an experiment and nobody knew how far we would go, but  now we have grown to the point of needing a brand.

Mary: A good blog needs consistency as well as content. Both were a bit challenging at first. The goal of being there every week meant that the project needed committed volunteers who were in it for the long haul. Getting off the ground required a big commitment of time and effort. We may not have realized just how much time and effort in the beginning, but the project took on an importance and sense of mission that kept us going. We encouraged each other, stepped in when needed, and—as mentioned earlier—listened.

"Content is king" say the blogging gurus, and we agreed on this from day one. Yes, you have to be consistent in being there every week, but not at the expense of posting something just to meet the deadline. Again, planning was everything. We decided on topics well in advance and then recruited the most experienced person we could find to write the post. When a post on another blog offered advice that was perfect for newcomers, we re-blogged. Practical information written in an open and warm manner was what we wanted.

Samantha Lisk: We also kept in mind, as Mary mentioned, that consistency—i.e., posting at the same time on the same day every single week—is not as important as the quality of what we publish. I served briefly as webmaster when Daniela was on maternity leave, and in doing so I learned that it is okay to be a little later than usual in our posts. The important thing is that we have topnotch content.

Do you feel like you have achieved the blog's intended purpose?

Helen: The main goal has always been to develop a place where newcomers can find the tools and connections to get a better sense of how to dive into this dynamic profession. We could not do this without the students/newcomers on our planning team.

The blog has to be by newcomers for newcomers, or we will lose touch with that reality. We share resources, talk about ATA chapters, divisions, listservs, and training  opportunities, and point people to great blogs. All of this has been done to develop a community of support for newcomers.

Newcomers are the future and it is refreshing always to be looking at things with fresh eyes. The information we share also helps experienced professionals, since revisiting the basics is always smart, especially since we did not all get the basics in an organized way. Many of us "just figured it out" somehow, with lots of bumps and bruises along the way! This is something to which our team can definitely relate, since we are newcomers at running a blog (i.e., without a road map). Having access to the type of information the blog provides is the difference between hiking cross-country with or without a sketchy map.

Jamie: The purpose is to bring newcomers into contact with the resources and experienced professionals that will allow them to succeed. These are things newcomers will not always get from a course in translation or a webinar on interpreting. We post real-life stuff--advice from translators and interpreters who have been in their shoes and know what they need to hear. We go for advice and topics that are not too simple, but not too complex for the beginning translator or interpreter to swallow. We are looking constantly for topics that are relevant and answer the biggest questions our readers have.

Daniela: I came late into the picture when the purpose of the blog was very clear: to provide a resource for newcomers to the translation and interpreting professions. It has become a place where people can get advice not only from the articles that are posted, but also through exchanges with the blog’s leaders. It is an interactive platform to discuss those daunting questions openly.

Mary: Many translation and interpreting businesses fail because their owners lack basic business skills. The open and competitive market really gives them no time to figure it out by trial and error. The Savvy Newcomer began as a way to offer these newcomers the lessons learned, as told by experienced translators and interpreters. Along the way, it became an indispensable guide for setting up shop, growing a business, and avoiding common mistakes. Whether you call it a mission, a purpose, a goal, or a reason to be, The Savvy Newcomer has succeeded beyond expectations. I am personally proud of what this team has accomplished.

The Future

What next? There is still a lot to do. We are trying to provide resources for newcomers, and that means we will always be needed! Newcomers will continue to join ATA and the profession for many years. They come in all shapes and sizes: students like Jamie and Samantha, people making a career transition in their 50s, and people who change careers due to personal reasons. Some get to study full-time, others have amazing language skills and need to be connected to programs that will fill the gaps they need. Some have been working at this for years, but have decided they want to focus on it in a professional way. There are always questions to answer. We want to provide resources that are practical, realistic, and founded in solid content.

Since we will always need newcomers on our team (it is the only way to really know what newcomers need), we have to develop ways to have two-way communication. Our next dream: a Yahoo listserv for student representatives and faculty to discuss issues with which they are dealing, as well as an online powwow once a quarter or so. Will it happen? We will give it a try.

On a related note, we also think the "Buddies Welcome Newbies" session at ATA's Annual Conference is really important. This is a great way to connect with the newcomers to the conference and to the ATA community. We hope to have some of our newbies and our buddies join our blogging team.

If you are not already a reader of The Savvy Newcomer, please consider giving it a try. You can sign up for new posts on the blog’s home page, or if Twitter is your method for news, look for the blog at

Get Acquainted with The Savvy Newcomer Blog

About the Authors

Helen Eby is the assistant administrator of ATA's Spanish Language Division and the president of the Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters. She has been involved in translation since she was 15. She is a certified medical interpreter, a certified court interpreter (Oregon), and has a certificate in translation from New York University. She helped develop The Savvy Newcomer blog, which is designed to help students get started in the profession. Contact:

Daniela Guanipa is a freelance translator and interpreter with over 14 years of experience. Her language pairs are English>Spanish (ATA-certified), Spanish/Portuguese>English, and Portuguese>Spanish. She is also certified as a court interpreter by the Indiana Supreme Court. She has a BA in international relations from the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas. She is the secretary of the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida. She is also the blogmaster for The Savvy Newcomer, which is designed to help students get started in the profession. Contact:

Jamie Hartz is a second-year MA student in Spanish translation at Kent State University. She has traveled and studied in Spanish-speaking countries in various capacities, including missions trips, personal travel, and a semester in Seville, Spain. She is the moderator for The Savvy Newcomer blog, which is designed to help students get started in the profession. Contact:

Mary David is ATA's member benefits and project development manager. She is part of the development team for The Savvy Newcomer blog, which is designed to help students get started in the profession. Contact: