Glyph’s Roots: History, Culture and Language

According to the Washington State Certificate of Incorporation, which I must say looks rather important yet unassuming in its dusty black frame, Glyph Language Services, Inc., came into being on February 12, 2002. That is, on February 12, 2022, Glyph will have been in business for twenty years … a long time in LSP years! And an inspiring milestone for all of us who work here.

Indeed, the required papers and bureaucratic checklists were finalized in Seattle twenty years ago; however, Glyph’s roots reach a good deal deeper into the past than that. Moreover, to know Glyph’s prehistory goes a long way to grasp certain qualities of Glyph’s present culture, particularly our dedication to service, our passion for language and culture, and our sense that “mean what you say” is our higher purpose.

One way to see Glyph is as the profitable offspring of a not-for-profit public service organization, Seattle Language Academy, or SLA. SLA was an institution that sprang from the passion for language, history, culture, and literature of its founders, Marc Mariani and Tyler Lansford. Marc and Tyler were not really business people when they founded SLA, rather they were idealistic graduate students and teachers who had been at the University of Washington together, working towards postgraduate degrees in Classics. 

Classics? For those who are not sure, Classics is the field of study of the ancient world, specifically the Greek and Roman cultures and languages. Because Greeks founded cities all around the Mediterranean and Romans built an empire that extended from Britain to Iraq, the time period and geographic area that Classics covers is vast. In fact, the geographical area happens to encompass most of Western and Eastern Europe and a lot of Northern Europe and also parts of that ill-defined continent, Asia, and the Indian subcontinent and North Africa. The vastness of that sweep takes in a multitude of interacting and overlapping yet distinct modern languages, an idea which is beautifully captured by the interlocking branches, leaves and acorns of SLA’s original oaktree logo.

Logo of Seattle Language Academy featuring an intricate oak tree with interlocking branches, leaves, and acorns, symbolizing the interconnectedness of languages and cultures, with the academy's name at the bottom

Fig 1: SLA logo, circa 2002.

When in 1996 they established SLA in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Marc and Tyler were bringing to bear that profound and energetic love for culture and linguistic heritage implied by the study of Classics. SLA has since closed its doors, alas, but in its day it was the premier private language school in Seattle, offering classes and individual lessons in a huge range of languages from Arabic to Turkish, and, no surprise, Latin and Ancient Greek. 

What’s SLA’s connection to localization? From the beginning, members of the public, lacking other options at the time, brought items they wanted translated to SLA. Their assumption was that there would be some linguist on hand who could translate them and very often that assumption was correct. In fact, translation became such a popular request that SLA began charging fees for this service and in 2001 hired its first full-time project manager, Aaron Schliem. Before long, SLA’s translation activity became quite profitable, and, thus, problematic in light of the school’s non-profit status. So, Marc and Tyler decided to spin off the translation business and, in February, 2002, took the steps needed to incorporate Glyph Language Services. At the same time, they combined forces with Mark Truluck, who joined Glyph’s board, bringing valuable technology and business expertise. And Aaron became Glyph’s first employee. 

Glyph quickly prospered, picking up some extraordinarily prestigious accounts among the marquee institutions of Seattle (think of the world’s largest software and e-commerce companies, not to mention a Seattle-based global coffee company, e.g.); business diversified, Glyph’s staff grew and Aaron was promoted to CEO. In 2006 both SLA and Glyph moved out of their cramped, rather rustic but deliciously fragrant quarters above a bagel deli and Labanese restaurant into a shiny-new office building on the tree-lined banks of the Lake Washington Ship Canal in the Fremont neighborhood. There, Glyph continued to diversify, gain clients and grow in sophistication by developing and adopting rapidly improving localization technology. At the same time, Glyph established an admirable record of client retention by consistently delivering high quality, meticulous, and timely translation services. After a few years, like a bird leaving its nest, Glyph moved out of the Fremont offices to its current home, Spokane, Washington. 

In 2017, Aaron left Glyph and Glyph’s board of directors (still, as now, consisting of Marc, Tyler and Mark), sought new leadership among Glyph’s talented staff (“Glyphers”, as we call ourselves). On a good hunch they promoted to CEO the Director of Production, Viktoriya Reed. Viktoriya, or Vitta, as we Glyphers call her, is a native of Russia who immigrated to the US as a little kid. She was originally hired by Glyph to be a Project Manager, but her background was big-picture international business and business administration, and her experience was as Executive Director of the Spokane International Trade Alliance. At Glyph, she added to that worldly background a minutely detailed knowledge of localization operations, learned in the trenches, and she absorbed the Glyph ethos with which she guides the company today. 

Now, it’s 2022, and Glyph has been in business long enough to look back and take stock of itself. Over these twenty years, Glyph has gained a vast array of new clients and, for twenty years, has retained a lot of the same marquee accounts that formed its book of business back in the early zeds. In every case, our clients’ needs have become exponentially more sophisticated. And their linguistic requirements are literally all over the map! The questions I ask myself at this moment are – How has Glyph, the little language school spinoff, succeeded so long and so well? – and – Why do I love working here so much?

Simple yet bold Glyph logo with a stylized letter 'Y', known as upsilon, in a warm orange hue, representing the company's focus on language services and its roots in classical education and linguistics

Fig 2: I think you can see echoes of the SLA oaktree logo in the trunk and stretching arms of the Glyph upsilon logo. 

I think the answer to both questions is the same. In 2022, Glyph’s demand for quality, precision and an acute appreciation for cultural context is undiminished. If anything, it has grown in importance and refinement. No problem, that’s Glyph’s métier! We succeed because Glyphers thrive on delivering on that challenge  –  i.e., localization that gets the meaning just right. And that’s the throughline to the Glyph of 2002. True to its roots and the values of its founders, what animates Glyph in 2022 is a passion for language, culture and service. 

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With the inevitable measures that all businesses need to undertake to support staff and clients, I would like to provide you with an update on our operations. For over 5 years 100% of our staff have been trained and able to work remotely while still maintaining weekly office days for collaboration and team building. We have cultivated business platforms and operations that run digitally without sacrificing security, service quality or capabilities during the better part of the last decade. As of March 9th, all company operations were transferred to work-from-home with no expected change in services, capacity or staff availability.

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