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Spotlight: Willie Bell, Retired Software Engineering Lead

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

I have a Heavy Good Vehicle driver with my Father’s business, albeit lasted only 6 months!

Tell us about your career journey so far

I am recently retired after 40 years in IT. 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 manage 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.

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 was your favourite subject in school and why?

Maths as I enjoyed problem-solving and was fortunate to have good teachers.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

  • Maths or indeed any science Chemistry, Physic, Biology – to solve problems, be curious

  • English – you need to communicate

  • Team Sports – you’re nearly always part of a team and you win together and you lose together

What is your favourite thing about your job?

  • Computer programming (“coding”) was great fun to create your own code, build larger programs/solution

  • observe the amazing development of new tech. E.g. 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 throughout the UK, India several times and USA

  • Good job security and opportunities, especially in the UK including Scotland

  • Becoming a STEM Ambassador and visiting schools to promote IT

What is a normal day in your role like?

I spend some of my time in the office planning and preparing for maintenance work. I write and reply to emails, I organise the things that we need and write work instructions. Other days, when I am at power stations, I might be investigating faults, making sure it is safe for people to carry out maintenance work and managing tools, equipment and people. Some days can be normal but other days unexpected things happen and I must quickly change my plans to deal with new problems.

Suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?

Have a go at coding with Snap:

Or try HTML ( hypertext markup language)

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Tel: 01383 626070


Address: 2 Pitreavie Court, Dunfermline, KY11 8UU

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The UK-wide STEM Ambassador programme is managed by STEM Learning Limited, which operates the National STEM Learning Network, alongside other projects supporting STEM education. To find out more please go to the STEM Learning website