How I Got Into Tech

How I Got Into Tech

How I Got Into Tech

When Jackie Galbraith, the Principal at the college I work at posted an article about how she got into Tech (read it here ) it inspired me to write about my journey with Tech as it wasn’t at the top of my lists when I began my journey into employment more than a quarter of a century ago. 

I didn’t take computing at school, it wasn’t a subject that inspired me and in my first 2 years of it at high school it was a pretty poor experience of it, with poor apple macs being my memory. I ended up doing OIS (office and Information Studies – an update to Secretarial studies and predecessor of Administrative Studies which seems to be studied now) during this I learned keyboard skills, I’m still quite an efficient typist, and although some was on an old manual typewriter, the rest was on an Amstrad word processor. 

My strong subjects at school were all Math based, Accounting, Geography, Physics and despite loving arts and music I was persuaded by my Mum that the arts subjects were of little value to me in future life. Accounting was where I found I gelled most, it’s math based around a solid structure and template.  

My work experience at High School, with the ex Hearts and Scotland footballer Donald Ford in his chartered accountancy business led me to believing that accounting was a suitable way forward for me, I applied for a number of jobs at the end of fifth year and left after completing one day of sixth year to become a Trainee Accounting Technician with Lothian Regional Council on their Training Programme for Young People, think of that like a YTS or Modern Apprenticeship style programme. 

Pretty soon after starting it I realised it might not really be for me, work experience for a small chartered accountants had been great showing me the snout to tail approach and that’s what I was learning at college but work was different, I was a small cog in a large machine and only seeing a small part of the process was something that I wasn’t keen on. To this day I still like to see the bigger picture. 

At college I was using and being trained in Supercalc as the spreadsheet of choice. I completed an SVQ 3 in Accounting via a day release programme. 

At work, after a first year of accounts payable and payroll, I was moved into an office which dealt with the hard accountancy and started on the same day as the new senior accountant, which meant he had to find something for me to do whilst he found his feet, so he gave the manual, and some training notes, to Excel 4. This was before the days of workbooks and scripting. By the time I was sent on a course for Excel I was teaching the instructor how to more efficiently use functions. This was the beginning of a love for data analysis tools, as despite its use as an accounting tool, at its heart Excel is a tool for looking at data. 

Being sent on another Microsoft Office Product course had me using Microsoft Access at work to produce databases all the way back in 1994/1995 and building queries, and forms in that.  

I kept my skills up to date on Microsoft Office products with each update and upgrade and in my spare time began looking at some web technology playing with HTML in my spare time from 1996. Into the early 2000’s and I was improving my skills using PHP and MySQL to build websites in my spare time, for a friends toy shop business and then going on to build a CMS to update Livingston FC’s website on the template that was being used. In 2003 I rebuilt the CMS and the full front end of the site for Livingston FC working with it until 2007. 

At the day job I had moved in 2002 from the accounting area of the council to working in the Payroll / HR area providing support for the CHRIS payroll system and building a MS Access based system for monitoring sickness absence across the council. I was also the lead user in the project to migrate from a UNIX to MSSQL Server environment, responsible for pushing the use of export, manipulation in Excel and import of data and working with Hummingbird BI to try to implement a Business Intelligence system, along with providing regular updates to management and ad-hoc reporting.  This included returns to the Office of national Statistics, responses to Freedom of Information requests etc.

The council were going through “Single Status”, a job evaluation process, and my background in accounting along with my Excel skills were used here to build and maintain costing models showing the effects of the job evaluation process. T

Needing a change of pace I then left the council, after 16 years, to study a HNC in photography at West Lothian College, then a HND at Stevenson College (now part of Edinburgh College). My HND wasn’t a happy one and my confidence took a real knock, so a year of working in retail as I considered my options before deciding I was going to apply for a degree in photography at Grays School of Art meant I had missed the UCAS deadline and I had the choice of another year in retail or studying something else. 

A decision to study again had me looking at what was available and with my love of MS Office and web skills, and background working with Business Intelligence systems I found the HNC in Information Technology at West Lothian College. Two months in I had decided I wasn’t going to apply for the photography degree but realised just how much I loved technology, with databases and web technology being my favourite areas.  

My mind was made up and I applied for the 2nd year of a BSc in Information Technology at Edinburgh Napier University. I completed my degree, which allowed a good bit of freedom, specialising in Database Systems and Digital Forensics. 

I was working part time at this stage and didn’t want to go the route of a graduate programme, plus my love of whisky had caught up on me, so I spent a further 3 years working with whisky, including managing a whisky and cigar store for 2 years. My tech skills were used here analysing sales data, working with exporting and importing to the EPOS system and Ecommerce site, cleaning the data and improving the SEO of the products as I went. 

Moving to West Lothian College for a better work/life balance and to make better use of my skills and qualifications was a big move but one, now that I’ve been here 18 months, I’m hugely glad I made. My job has evolved over the time I have been here already and the openness to change and willingness to embrace technology from Bill, my line manager, and our entire senior management team, especially our principal Jackie, has made it a place that will continue to embrace technology and allow me the space the show how data can be used in the most efficient ways to provide a better experience for the students and staff at the college. 

I’m currently working on improving the data available to the staff and students in the college, and helping to make the systems and processes as easy as possible.

I’m working with SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) and Microsoft Power BI to produce regular, up to date accurate visualisations of the college’s data whilst looking to the future and how we can improve the amount and quality of the data we have and demonstrating ways in which that data can be used to best effect.

The future is bright, the future is filled with data and I for one can’t wait to see where it takes us. 

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