Meet The Inventor of upLIFT Technology, Kevin Flanagan

In the first Q&A of our ‘meet the inventor’ series, we caught up with Kevin Flanagan. Kevin is the creator of upLIFT technology in SDL Trados Studio 2017 and in this Q&A we find out a little bit about his invention, thoughts on the future of the translation industry and what he gets up to when he’s not creating translation software technology.

A little bit about you…

Where are you from?

I was born and grew up around London, though to Irish parents, and ‘home’ often meant ‘Dublin’.

Which SDL office do you work in?

I work from my home office in Bristol. There is an SDL office in Bristol, but the teams there work on totally different things. Most of my colleagues are in Cluj or elsewhere in Europe.

How long have you worked at SDL?

Just over two years, which have flown by!

Can you tell us about your professional background?

I worked in software development for around fifteen years before becoming a French-English translator specialising in IT texts. After an MA in Translation Studies undertaken alongside, I taught CAT tool technology at the University of Bristol while pursuing a PhD centred on improving subsegment recall in Translation Memory (TM). That technology – from which upLIFT was developed – attracted SDL’s attention, and they hired me.

Let’s talk about your translation software invention…

What was your inspiration for your upLIFT technology invention?

No more nor less than using CAT tools and being disappointed by the capabilities of TM; though I could very well see why the kind of functionality I wanted would be challenging to implement. I think a common (and potentially annoying) characteristic of software developers is a tendency to be very readily disappointed by “other people’s software" – sometimes enough to try to make something better.

How long did it take you to bring upLIFT to life?

I built the original proof-of-concept during my MA, and developed it a lot further during my PhD. A lot of those three years was spent investigating which approaches work best, surveying what translators wanted and demonstrating that alternatives weren’t adequate. Once I started work at SDL, I had to spend a few months getting to know the technology there before integrating this new functionality. SDL has some really good language-processing technology, and there was quite a lot to do to ensure the integration made the most of that. I completed the MA in 2010, and upLIFT was released with SDL Trados Studio 2017, so it’s been quite a journey …

Why is upLIFT a game-changer for translators?

Under the hood, moving from the long-standing approach of my-TM-aligns-source-and-target-sentences to my-TM-aligns-the-words-and-phrases-in-those-sentences means that the software knows an order of magnitude more about what’s in your TM, so can make much more use of it to help translators. Fragment Recall and Fuzzy Repair are the first features we’ve built on top of that, and alongside making improvements to those, the step-change underneath will allow us to make other advances, too.

Which trends currently excite you in the translation industry and what innovations do you think we will see in the future?

I think the ongoing joining-up process of online systems still has much more to give us, both by how it enables us to bring together technologies that haven’t been combined before and people that haven’t worked together before. There’s sure to be further innovation within technology, but I’d like to see more driven by research based on translation in practice. Studies of translators at work are hard, but measurable results showing how to make cognitive and ergonomic improvements are invaluable.

Tell us about your interests and hobbies

Away from the world of translation, what do you do for fun?

Having an 11-year-old son is a lot of fun. We’re climbing the 25m mast on the SS Great Britain, soon. Once at the top, you then climb out 9m along the main yard! He’s pretty fearless, but it might be a challenge for me, despite being harnessed in …

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself

I used to play a lot of jazz guitar, before I became a dad, gigging pretty regularly. One day, I’ll have time to get back to those 13b9 chords…

Where can we find you online?

I tend to spend more time on ‘engine-room’ work than online, but I try to keep track of what’s going on in the SDL Community forums and reply where I can help, and I can also be found on LinkedIn.