Expanding the Software Developer Team
When Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg, the first Pietist missionary to India, arrived in 1706, he began mastering the Tamil language, with plans to translate God’s Word. Tamil, with its beautiful swirling script, had been hand-written on dried strips of palm leaf for centuries, and yet even by the mid-1500s a printing press was available for only a limited number of sacred and governmental publications.
Today, with modern word processing, Scripture is recorded, revised, typeset, and distributed using the computer. Now even cell phones can make God’s Word available in elaborate Asian scripts like Tamil’s.
This progress is not only accelerating Bible translation but also increasing the use of the translated Scriptures. In 2010 the top ten Apple Store applications downloaded onto cell phones included the Bible App (in the Free Reference category) produced by YouVersion. Using YouVersion platforms on the Web, as well as every cell phone model possible, Bible translation partner agencies are working to provide access to all their translated Scriptures. And Faith Comes By Hearing, a partner organization, is recording these Scripture translations, providing audio Bibles online.
In addition to progress made through the above partnerships, Bible translation software developers are changing their way of creating products. Now we are increasing the number of people involved in software development by asking software developers worldwide to join the team.
Recently the team expanded to include four software developers in India. Incidentally, these men, all Tamil speakers, can now read the Scriptures in their own language on their phones! We initiate and build such relationships through face-to-face contacts, just as I did on a September 2011 visit to Chennai for evaluation, planning, and training. As a result, I now hold video chats with the team every two weeks. Through this continuous learning experience we identify ways of working together more effectively.
During this year, users of our programs worldwide can elect to have statistics collected that will show us which parts of a program are most useful to them. Ideas have been coming in, too, about new features they would like.
Another change in our process involves using “Agile software development” techniques, which allow us to respond quickly to the needs expressed by software users, shortening delivery times and improving quality. When a user reports a problem, our development team can frequently adjust the software and quickly return an improved version. Sometimes delivering a fix can take a “whole day” due to time zone differences, but even if it takes longer, it is often delivered within two weeks.
Another advance has come through Pathway, an add-on for Bible translation software such as Paratext. Language communities who want to make their translated Scriptures widely available can use Pathway to produce high-quality electronic and print publications. It’s as easy as clicking on File, Print. It can also publish dictionaries. (We plan to eventually expand the options.) Pathway conforms to best publishing practices, opening the door for communities to take charge of their publication needs.
I remember while growing up that my dad spent about ten dollars per month on all his electronic communications needs: one party-line phone. In our lifetime, we have seen huge advances in technology. Ziegenbalg overcame many challenges as he joined God’s ranks years ago, but now any person carrying a cell phone, including the Tamil, can step up and serve the King of Kings.
Adapted from a story published in the Winter 2012 edition of Rev. 7, entitled "An Army of Software Developers."