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Willie Bell

Part of STEM Ambassador Week

Hi, I am Willie Bell and recently retired after 40 years in Information Technology (IT).

Why and how did I go into an IT career?

I was always interested in science at school, and engines as my father had a transport company. I was attracted to studying Electronic Engineering at colleague or university, but failed my Higher Physics prelim due to playing too much rugby, working with my father and not studying enough! I did managed to get my Highers in Maths, English and History.

After a conversation with my Maths teacher, who was also my careers advisor, I applied for a Trainee Computer Programmer job at Sprague an American Electronics company in my home town of Galashiels. I thought that computer programming looked “cool”, and computing seemed to be a good choice for the future. My father thought I was mad, but my mother was more supportive.

What type of companies were operating and how did my career pan out?

Now this in 1979, ten years before the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee would invent the World Wide Web (WWW). Google had not been founded and no one had PCs, tablets or mobile phones. The only way to chat to your friends was ask you mum or dad to use the landline phone or go and see them face-to-face.

How a web browser works

IBM, Burroughs and ICL all made mainframe computers, and they filled rooms the size of football pitches. You created your code via punched paper cards, input your data via magnetic tape and got the output via printed stationery or magnetic tape . The IBM computer below was 1,000 times the size and 100,000 times the price of your mobile phone, and had much less processing power!

Microsoft Windows, Android or IOS were still lightyears away.

IBM Mainframe

After 15 months as a trainee programmer at Sprague Electric I spoke to two individuals who had gone to Heriot Watt University and Napier College, to study Computer Science. This sounded interesting and the chance to move away from Galashiels to the big smoke, Edinburgh, was exciting. Fast forward to graduation in 1983 from Napier, and I joined Ferrari Defence Systems as a programmer in COBOL and Assembler languages on ICL computers. Not quite missile guidance computer systems, but still pretty interesting.

Late 1985, I joined Bank of Scotland and gained even more experience as a Programmer, then Designer, Project Manager working on IBM computers, but still no Apple or Microsoft! I gained looks of technical and behavioural skills working in great IT and business teams, with some of the best technology.

In 2000 I joined an IT services company Sopra Steria for three years, and then joined HBOS (Halifax Bank of Scotland ) Bank In 2003. I remained there, through the takeover by Lloyd’s Banking Group in 2009 leading IT teams across the UK and India, and until my retirement in 2019.

A total of 40 years in IT.

What Did I Enjoy?

  • Computer programming (“coding”) was great fun to create your own code, build larger programs/solution.
  • Observe the amazing development of new techology, for example, PCs and development on MS Windows, Increased speed, Reduced size, Reduced prices, volume grow.
  • Working with great people in large and small diverse teams. There was always a good mixture of women and men in teams, a broad ethnic mix And various disable colleagues. IT could accommodate a diverse workforce.
  • Travel thought UK, Indian several times and USA.
  • Good job security and opportunities, especially in the UK including Scotland.
  • Becoming a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Ambassador and visiting schools to promote IT.

Why Would You Go into a Technology Career?

  • Really interesting work to show your creative side (blends science and art).
  • Good career prospects to be employed or self employed.
  • You don’t have to go to University. Many companies recruit Software Engineering or Cyber Security apprentices proving you don’t have a degree. You get paid work, training and SVQ qualification from level 5 to 12.
  • If you get the grades, Scotland has a brilliant choice of Universities with a superb reputation for their computer science courses. Dundee and Abertay are right up there!
  • Opportunity for travel.
  • Very easy to work remotely (very relevant in our current COVID-19 pandemic).
  • Easy access to technology in schools via coding clubs or at home via self study.

Let's Get Coding!

Have a go at coding with:

Snap, it free, safe and easy to download... See

IBM Mainframe

Or try HTML (HyperText Markup Language) - See to give it a try.

Willie Bell
Willie Bell

This page is part of the STEM Ambassador Week information.

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