Localization strategy

Expert Tips: How to Motivate Developers for Localization

Motivating developers for localization can make or break the success of your global software. Experts reveal how to do it right from day one.
Localization strategy blog category featured image | Phrase

From bug fixes to feature requests, software developers have plenty on their plates. Adding in localization may feel like the straw that breaks the camel’s back—but what if there’s a way to motivate developers to create globalized software? Raising awareness of the why of software localization is only a stepping stone to a journey that goes from cultivating a global mindset company-wide to proactively seeking individual partnerships with developers. Ready to set off?

Software localization often feels like new ground

Sometimes, development teams seem walled off from strategic decisions like expanding the global footprint of the business. You might think that launching in a new market is strictly a marketing decision—and developers aren’t exactly known for their love of marketing—but think again: When marketing and management choose to add support for more languages to a software product, it’s the development team that’s likely to be doing a lot of the actual work.

What’s more striking, some developers encounter localization for the first time when they start working for a global business. It’s such a new process to them that they may not know enough to get beyond reams of spreadsheets in an attempt to manage the localization project. That’s why making developers localization-aware from day one can be the difference between a software company that thrives globally and software that fails to attract an international user base.

Why a global mindset matters for software localization

The global readiness of the development team is at the heart of successful software localization. When development doesn’t start with localization in mind, there’s a greater chance that you’ll waste time and money. As soon as the product needs to be localized, the team will be forced to rewrite parts of the code so it’s ready for localization—resulting in delay and extra cost.

What does global readiness mean?

Imagine you’re developing a grocery shopping app for customers to find the best local deals on their favorite fresh produce. How would you know your team is truly global-ready?

To start with, your Product team, with the input of an international business development manager, would realize early on that customers in different countries want to know what’s in season before buying produce.

The team would also factor in different buying patterns in different countries (e.g., price-sensitive cultures vs. quality-driven cultures), as well as country-specific habits (e.g., preference for organic food in Europe) and preferences (e.g., favored local payment methods).

The team would then design product features to suit the needs of both local markets and common globally-desired functions:

  • A language preference setting, with the app supporting both right-to-left languages (e.g., Arabic, Hebrew) and left-to-right languages (e.g., English, Spanish) for both buyers and sellers
  • A filter that lets users specify what kinds of produce they’re looking for, e.g., organic vs. non-organic
  • A weekly overview of what’s in season locally
  • A currency conversion tool for international customers who shop around the world on your app
  • Different payment methods depending on local preferences

Moving forward, the team would build the app with these features in mind to ensure that they’re designed efficiently and effectively. They would build localization-friendly code, a process known as internationalization (i18n), that ensures that:

  • User interface strings are stored in resource files instead of hard-coded in the code base, to allow for easy retrieval and localization.
  • There are no concatenated strings that might break after localization.
  • Images in the UI don’t require separate asset files for each local version of the app, instead of loading images dynamically where possible.
  • The app is tested with real-world data (e.g., using internationalization testing tools) to make sure that the designed features work as expected in all locales.
  • Date and time formats are configured for the proper region.
  • Price formatting is dependent on location, e.g., prices would use a comma to separate decimals in one country but dots in another.
  • Different text length between languages is accounted for, so all text is visible regardless of the language.
  • Unicode UTF-8 encoding is used across all languages for better localization.

In this example, the team understood right from the start that the customer is global. However, how do you get them to do so?

Make motivation part of your mission in software localization

While your developers are likely extremely talented and have tons of experience in getting apps to market, they might not always appreciate the value of localization. This shortcoming might make it difficult to build software that works efficiently and effectively in all other languages. To avoid it, you need a sustainable plan to get your developers enthusiastic about and keep them motivated for localization in the long run.

Have a localization “evangelist” partner with developers

With an internationalization or localization specialist being on par with developers from the start of your software localization project, your team can benefit from an expert who tirelessly works to “evangelize” localization and internationalization.

Having a localization “evangelist” ensures your development team continually gets:

  • Insights into how other businesses have been able to make localization part of their global strategy
  • Guidelines and best practices for internationalization to provide for faster, better, and cheaper localization of content
  • A well-maintained catalog of mistakes to avoid in software localization, etc.

Who can play the role of a localization “evangelist”, though?

If you don't have a dedicated localization team yet, it can be someone senior on your Development team, experienced in internationalizing apps, or just looking forward to localization testing because they know how challenging it may be. For large enterprises with established localization departments, a natural choice is a localization manager.

Whatever your scenario, make sure to provide a level playing field for both sides: Managers should be able to understand the "language" of developers. That's why the evangelist shouldn’t preach by the book in a top-down approach—an all-too-familiar issue for Sarah Sandführ, Team Lead UX Content & Localisation at Trusted Shops. The German-based company offers trust-building services to online shops and their customers throughout Europe:

“Software localization is part of the Product Unit of our UX Content team. This structure gives us the opportunity to think about localization at the very moment when German and English content is being created. Close cooperation between the 12 product teams and us is important even at this stage. However, with so many product teams, we can’t sit in each but rather hover over them like satellites. What has worked for us is a jour fixe with the respective product owner as a fixed component of each sprint. We no longer talk about whether to localize but rather which languages should be prioritized, which projects are pending, about strategic topics, etc.,” explains Sarah.

This collaborative approach makes it possible for localization managers to show developers the real value of localization and internationalization.

At the same time, it opens up room for developers to translate their predominantly technical interest into a well-rounded understanding of software globalization: market penetration, brand image, return on investment, customer satisfaction, etc.

Last but not least, as Sarah Sandführ highlights, it lays the groundwork for nurturing individual partnerships with developers in the long run:

“Having at least one person in the developer environment who can push localization is important, but working alone in a localization bubble with the expectation that developers will handle the issue themselves might be tricky. That’s why the focus should be on building a partnership with at least one developer or product owner in each development team. These people can in turn serve as ‘translators’ in the respective team. From my own experience, you can find motivated ‘partners in crime’ in every team—you just need to look for them proactively and trust that in the end everyone involved wants to build a good product that can perform in multiple markets,” concludes Sarah.

Incentivize developers to do great by sharing strategic goals

While encouraging your developers, you also need to give them a reason to care about localization in the first place by showing them tangible benefits.

For many developers who have worked in a local market their entire career, these benefits might go beyond exposure to real-life examples of brands that have seen success from localization. This is when offering incentives for good internationalization practices might be just what they need to thrive.

This might be as simple as giving your developers every Friday off for a whole month after they complete one successful release. Or it could be more creative, like internal contests for the best-internationalized feature. The prize incentives don’t have to be financial—they could come in other forms, such as recognition through featuring the developer on the company blog, or an in-person award from the CTO.

Generally speaking, developers will be better motivated to work on localization projects if, on top of understanding why it is important, they feel recognized or rewarded for doing a good job.

Seek a diverse workforce

Finally, you need to know that your team is representative of as many of the local markets and customer segments you are targeting as possible. If your developers are all from English-speaking countries, or all from the same age group or gender, it might be harder to build software that works for other cultures without some extra effort.

Consider hiring at least one new international member each year—not only will this give you someone more familiar with the international market, but they can also mentor other staff by raising awareness of just how different users from other countries can behave.

Recruiting diverse talent will likely motivate your developers to build better localizable software—the representation of a user from another country will become more real to them. By integrating this new understanding with their existing skills and knowledge, they’ll get more passionate about creating global software and ultimately become localization advocates themselves.

Show developers that localization-driven development doesn’t have to be tedious

Your developers might be intimidated by the prospect of having to internationalize their software, thinking that it means jumping through a lot of hoops.

And because time is precious and they already wear many hats, they need to know ahead of time that this effort will be worth their while before they’ll commit to doing hard work. Reassure them by:

  • Explaining how localization can be just as agile as any of their software development process
  • Getting them involved in choosing and implementing a software localization solution that makes it easy for them to automatically export and import their code for localization, rather than having to manually update it
  • Gaining their trust in your localization team by enabling constant communication and cross-departmental work
  • Avoiding localization overhead by letting them continue to work in their regular development environment (with a localization platform that integrates with it and does all the heavy lifting)
  • Reminding them that localization is much easier when they plan for it from the beginning instead of having to fix internationalization bugs or create workarounds for language or cultural-specific things that are missing from the code

If you are able to show your developers how localization can save them time and headaches, they’ll probably get more motivated to build for localization from the get-go.

What’s next?

Educating your developers on the why of localizing software products for international markets is the first step in the global journey. The next one is seeking individual partnerships with at least one member of each development team.

After you’ve set your team up for success, it’s time to work on maintaining the global mindset within your company. You can do this by ensuring that your workflows, documentation, and tools are scalable enough to grow with your global strategy.