The Sin Of Honest People – Hubris

I had an unusual experience recently, unusual only until I spoke with a friend in the the software field. He told me that what happened was normal, all too common.

I had a job of adding subtitles to a video so that English readers could enjoy a Hebrew video. I underbid on the project, charging far less than I ought have to. But that’s water under the bridge, a lesson well learnt, although expensive. (If I learn from the lesson, it will have been cheap. If I don’t, than it is very costly!) The job involves:

  1. Transcribing the Hebrew audio
  2. Translating to English
  3. Making the English read somewhat coherently
  4. Setting the time-code for each line of text subtitle
  5. Re-encoding the video

Here is where the pitfalls can be:

  1. Transcribing, – make sure the person transcribing is not leaving out lines, out of sloppiness, boredom or ADHD hyperactivity.
  2. Translating – ensure that no one is using Google Translate. There has been enough said about it, here I will suffice with one example taken from this job: the philosophical categories of matter are: inert, plant, animal and human life. Human life is commonly reffered to as “Speaking beings”, midaber. Here it was mistranslated as Desert – Midbar…
  3. English – Making it read. Well you need to actually ave some command of the language for that, you see.
  4. Timecoding – this is painstaking and boring. Not everyone is capable of doing this, even though its elementary and uncomplicated.

So here is how it went down: I was under the gun, needing to meet my deadlines. So I gave the work to four workers, people who I can vouch for their honesty. Each of the team had a task – one did the transcription, the other the translation the next the timecoding and finally the editing.

The work came back to me for re-encoding. I found it

  1. Mistranslated, oy!
  2. Missing words,
  3. Missing entire paragraphs, Huh?
  4. Timestamps jumping suddenly, like from minute 9 to minute 28 (??)
  5. The text reading like Chinese. It was not understandable

It was almost completely useless. I needed to throw the whole burnt mishmash out and start anew.

Oh, and the workers really needed their pay ASAP, and in their great zeal to get the job done they had spent long hours on the job, far outcosting the fixed price I had given the client. Oh, well…

So I’m here thinking: What went wrong? I feel cheated, having been mugged in a sort of fashion. Yet what were they to do? They indeed gave their best effort. These are very honest and decent people. I know some of them very well.

Perhaps it was the hubris, the overconfidence, the certainty that they had the nature and ability to do the job. Indeed they did not have the ability. Their English was not developed enough and their skillset small. Had they questioned what made them think they could command the language enough to perform the writing and translation, or focus long enough to do the timecoding, they would find themselves wanting. But they did not question, they just assumed ability.

What are my takeaways:

  1. Hubris in assuming ability leads directly to a form of theft, a well-meaning mugging.
  2. Ask workers directly: I’d like to give you this job. Do you think you can do it? On what do you base that assessment?
  3. I may be just as guilty of hubris. Ask myself; can I really handle this job, or perhaps with so many irons in the fire you are biting off more than you can chew. Maybe I really can’t handle this. Could be?