Friday, August 31, 2007

Myth #14 - CEOs, something you should know (last of the old series)

This is, in fact, the final myth of the old series, and it's huge:
"Internationalization is only needed in the software development department."
I have sent Jonathan Schwartz (Sun Microsystems' CEO) exactly one email. I have no idea if he read it, but in it I wrote:
1. Internationalization is not a solved problem.
2. Internationalization cannot be accomplished by engineering alone.
3. Internationalization must be an integral part of everyone's job; it cannot be accomplished by separate people labeled "internationalization specialists".
Today's myth is really #2 in the email, but the other 2 items are related. What do I mean by saying that "internationalization cannot be accomplished by engineering alone"? After all, doesn't software internationalization mean development work? Well, yes it does, but not in a vacuum.

Imagine designing, architecting, and implementing a software product with no specification, no customer requirements, no input from marketing, no data from market research companies - would you do that? Doesn't make sense, does it? And yet that's exactly how we internationalization folks work. There is no-one in marketing to gather international market or customer data; very little international market research is available for the areas that internationalization needs to know; and we don't do much in the way of gathering input from our existing international customers. And yet amazingly, people ask me all the time what languages, writing systems, and locales we should support. Sure, I can use my judgement, just as any other development architect could make her best guess on what to do. But that's not a very good way to do business.

Software internationalization engineers are expected to not only know their specialty, but to know everything about how it is applied everywhere. Just yesterday I had an email exchange with a manager in user interface engineering (UIE). We have been talking about putting together training to help the UIE folks better understand internationalization issues in the user interface. But the word is that their director is not interested. Huh? Sooooo, what does that mean, that UIE designs interfaces that only serve 40% of our market, and that's OK? Maybe this director is a firm believer in Myth #13. I'm not a UIE expert and have no plans to become one. Nor do I plan to move into int'l marketing, nor int'l financial reporting, nor int'l product distribution, nor manufacturing, nor software release, nor any other aspect of getting an international software product out in the marketplace. But all of these areas need to understand how international affects what they do. In other words, everyone needs to internationalize.

Let me give you another example. The globalization team is always trying to report numbers illustrating the value we add. We would like to show sales figures based on the localizations we have completed. The problem is that we have no way of knowing what customers are using which language versions of our products. This is not something that can be discerned from part numbers, because we include many localizations with each product. What needs to happen is that we need to get feedback from customers on what language they use as the primary one for the product they purchased. Globalization is an engineering organization; we are not positioned to garner this kind of information. Other groups could do it by simply internationalizing what they already do.

Or we could just keep guessing.

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