From Vancouver to Oberkochen for six months: Alexander Lonergan completed an internship in the legal department at ZEISS. In the following interview, he tells us what attracted him to the subject of data protection and whistleblowing and what expertise he thinks is particularly important.
Alex, what comes first up in your mind, when you think about ZEISS?
Future! – ZEISS is at the cutting edge of both technological and legal developments.
You are an intern coming from abroad, working at ZEISS since November 2017. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Yes, that’s right. I come from Vancouver, Canada where I study law. In North America law is a graduate degree that follows the bachelor’s. Before ZEISS, I’ve worked in several fields, including the Canadian Army, as an English teacher in Japan, and as a background actor.
Why did you choose ZEISS, what was your entry and what were your expectations?
ZEISS chose me! The arrangement was made through my university’s co-op office. I expected a corporate law experience, and have gotten exactly that, although it is beyond my expectations. I learned about ZEISS as an internship option through my university. ZEISS was the only German company that was open to taking Canadian law students on board, and the rest is history. Before my internship, I knew that my photographer friends all wanted ZEISS lenses, even if they didn’t have any yet! But now I can say that ZEISS is more than just a company that produces high-quality lenses. It is a big employer, an international substantial company that enables many opportunities in different working areas.
What was your job during your first months at ZEISS and what are you currently working on?
In the first few months, we were attempting to bring the entire group up to speed with upcoming changes to data protection law in the EU. This was more of an information dissemination role. Nowadays, my position has evolved into one where I am actively building a database to track how ZEISS manages the personal data that it collects. While this has been the main task, there have been many other assignments along the way. For example, I have drafted several legal memoranda for Corporate Compliance regarding changes to legal schemes in every jurisdiction of every country in which ZEISS does business.
What inspires you in your work at ZEISS?
I am inspired by the fact that my work is in an area that has never been explored before. Data protection and whistleblowing law are extremely new fields, and it is exciting to know that my work will impact thousands of people in a few months’ time.
Are there any special challenges for you during your internship, anything which makes your job difficult?
The language barrier remains a barrier. My German is far from perfect even after five months. With that said, I feel as though I can be a valuable asset to the team given that I am a native speaker of English with knowledge of legal English, which can be a rare skill on the other side of the planet from my home.
Would your job also be possible for a person with a different career? Which properties should you bring?
I would say that it is very possible for a law student of any country to take this position, and feel welcome by the team. With that said, the ability to interpret legislation is difficult to pick up without some legal education beforehand. If I had any advice for the next intern, it would be to start learning German right now, but also to review their contract law materials because they will be very useful.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is there anything you would do different now?
I would advise myself to focus on one language and master it, rather than take on four languages at an elementary level. I suppose it is difficult to choose without some sampling however! I would also tell myself to live in Aalen.
That’s interesting. Where do you live now? And why would you chose Aalen?
Aalen keeps the small city charm while offering a social atmosphere that rivals large cities. Something that I really love about living in Swabia are the small villages. In Canada, we have the nature covered, but we don’t have small towns with beautiful city centers under very old church spires. Riding my bike through these villages and stopping in for a local beer has been one of my highlights of my time in Germany.
Okay thank you very much for this Interview, Alex. May you give our readers some closing words?
I strongly suggest that interns and permanent job-seekers alike apply to ZEISS in Oberkochen. The winters are not bad at all, the nature is unrivaled, and weekends can be spent in any of four nearby countries! I expected a small-village experience, and the scenery is definitely small-village, but the lifestyle is very much international.