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BA 2011: History (Honours)


Mark Penney’s got perspective. Through his “eye-opening” work term at Ericsson, a Swedish telecommunications company, he has gained an important new outlook on both the obvious and more subtle differences between school and work.

After starting his Co-op career as a Heritage Interpreter for the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society, Mark continued on to Ericsson, a corporate juggernaut in the world of telecommunications. As a technical writer, he was responsible for writing about different types of software that Ericsson creates to manage routers to Internet Service Providers (ISPs.) To say the least, it was an important job that requires accuracy and strong writing skills.

This is where Mark received one of the many gems of insight he would learn on his Co-op term, “If you make a mistake in a document, it can be a pretty big deal, much more serious than making a mistake on a school paper.” Because it’s published material that goes out to customers, Ericsson ensures the quality of work through a process called “escalation”, where employees are encouraged to take a task or assignment higher up if they’re unsure about a topic. Due to the effort the company makes to promote communication on projects and tasks, Mark has learned that it’s okay to ask questions. “If you’re not sure, take it higher up even if you think you’re bothering the person,” he says. It’s much better than making a mistake on a published piece of technical writing!

Job responsibilities aside, Mark has also gained some perspectives on the work world that he couldn’t learn in a classroom. “Ericsson was an eye opener, as it was more of a ‘real job’ than those I have had in the past – it gave me a good sense of everything going on in the periphery of work and how important balancing life outside of my job is.” What’s more, Mark’s experience conducting interviews for his replacement gave him a look into the flipside of the application process, “I’ve never interviewed someone before, and it was really interesting to see how hiring works behind the office doors. It’s a lot less complicated than I thought it was!”

Through honing some serious research and technical writing skills, Mark developed a new consciousness about his writing style, a definite edge for the Honours History student about to embark on a year of thesis writing. “The writing I do for school and work is very different, Mark says, “Technical and business writing requires a specific style and audience. This experience has made me a lot more conscious of the way I write.”

For Mark, Co-op has been a great help in giving him the opportunity “to work for a real company with real responsibilities; where you are supported, but not mollycoddled.” As competition in the job market gets steeper, organizations will be looking for candidates not only with higher education, but several years of work experience. With a “stable of good references” and a “greater knowledge of the private sector,” Mark has gained a leg up from the rest of the competition.

Mark has two words of advice for prospective Co-op students: “Do it.” He says, “As students, we can have a skewed view of what the world’s like, and many of us probably haven’t taken a lot of time to think about what we truly want to do. Co-op, with its strong network of employers and its online database, make it dead simple for you to explore your career options.”