The University of Southampton

David Bell BSc Electronics, 1966

Retired, formerly Engineering Services Manager

What was your first job after graduating?
I joined Marconi Instruments, part of the Marconi-GEC group, as a design engineer working on Television Test Instrumentation. These products were used within the professional Television Broadcast industry.

The University itself is a fine and very friendly institution. The city has a lot to offer as well.

What were your major responsibilities/duties in this role and what skills did you develop?
Initially as a design engineer I resolved problems on current products, then designed specific electronic modules within a new product and then moved on to become project manager with overall design responsibility for a small team working on a further TV test product. I developed many skills at this first company. The products had to meet very exacting specifications to ensure the measurement results when used by broadcasters were accurate and traceable. The company manufactured its products in-house including most of the components including metalwork, plastics, PCBs, transformers and so on so I developed production engineering knowledge, manufacturing production line test and scheduling experience. I participated in broadcast industry shows including NAB in the USA which helped develop my early sales and marketing and customer-facing skills. I was lucky to be sponsored by my company for a 3-month Production Engineering Student Apprenticeship.

What is your current job?
I retired a few years ago but my last role was an Engineering Services Manager with an embedded software company based in the Cambridge Technopark.

What were your major responsibilities/duties in this role and what skills did you develop?
I managed a team of around 12 highly skilled embedded software engineers ‘porting’ the company’s embedded web browser onto customer’s IPTV-based set-top boxes using most of the current multimedia chip-sets. These customers included well-known brand-names from around the world including China, Taiwan, Korea, France, USA and others. Apart from stretching my somewhat thin software knowledge of Linux and video technologies, I had to hone my customer-facing skills for varying and very demanding international customer cultures. The project delivery schedules were always tight and with lean budgets. Managing a team of top-notch software engineers was exhilarating and rewarding.

What has been your favourite job since you have graduated? Why was it your favourite? What skills did you learn?
I guess my most rewarding career step was the time spent with Acorn Computers Ltd in Cambridge. My first role was project manager on the BBC Microcomputer. This brought me into contact with the conflicting cultures of the BBC and a high-tech Cambridge company which I had to manage on a daily basis. I later became project/product manager of the first ARM-chip based PCs. I managed a very wide range of staff skills and was in continuous contact with customers in an incredible range of markets including education, home and industry. In addition to extending my video and digital design skills, I had no choice but to develop my staff management skills with some of the most creative people around. Although initially a challenge, I found it extremely rewarding getting to know the personalities and having my own mind stretched! My marketing skills developed apace.

What have been the turning points in your career?
Moving from my first company to Xerox as a manufacturing engineer gave me first-hand experience of very high volume and state-of-the-art electronics manufacturing and also provided me with the opportunity to spend 2 years in the USA, with my family, working at two of the company’s USA sites. My time at Acorn Computers was a measurable culture change but drew upon the skills I had developed at the previous two companies. I suffered redundancy which many others have experienced but was lucky to have the opportunity to work at another Cambridge high-tech company; this time design consultancy centred around radio, video and chip design projects. Gaining this role following redundancy was in part due to networking with previous work colleagues; always try to leave as many friends behind as you can!

Do you have any regrets about decisions you have made about your career?
I only have regrets about my one year spent at a small electronics company not mentioned above. I did, however, develop further people management skills during that time

What are you most proud of?
There are several events during my career that I can look back on with some pride. Seeing a product I designed from scratch being used at an ITV television transmitter to manage transmission quality, launching the first 32 bit ARM-based RISC architecture PC and providing IT and test equipment services to 180 talented Cambridge engineers at a later company ensuring they each had whatever they needed in the way of equipment and IT services to get their job done efficiently.

What advice would you give to new Southampton graduates?
Whatever job or role you start with, you will end your career with something larger and probably in a very different area of expertise. Get a job, if possible and I know it’s currently not easy, in an area that can use some of your acquired degree knowledge. You will find by networking within that company that you can start to create a role that better matches your and the company’s needs. Although advertised jobs can be very specific, what companies actually need is intelligent, hard-working, flexible staff so once you’re in you can start to improve the skills match by looking for other roles within the company and asking for some training if needed.

Why did you decide to do your course?
I had always been interested in electronics as a hobby and Southampton offered the only pure electronics science course in the UK. I could see that the University had spotted the future and had already developed a capability for this ‘new’ area of technology.

How did your education at Southampton prepare you for your chosen career?
In addition to electronics design knowledge, the mathematics and physics course content gave me core knowledge which I have used throughout my career. The inevitable university experience of ‘learning how to learn’ was an essential pre-cursor to the life-long learning I have had to use during my employment; thank goodness for the World-Wide-Web!

Why would you recommend studying at Southampton?
Southampton has always focused on core academic subject areas that prepare students for solid careers. It has resisted the temptation to introduce fashionable subject areas that may not last or have few employment opportunities.

If you could start your time at University again, what would you do differently?
I would still study the same subject. I might, perhaps, participate in a slightly wider range of social activities.

What advice would you give to prospective students looking at the University of Southampton?
The University itself is a fine and very friendly institution. The city has a lot to offer as well. Try to ascertain what skills you already possess and what career paths you might wish to follow. Choose a subject or subject combination that will provide life-long skills and is demanding. Consider the employment prospects following graduation with that degree subject. Contact one or more of the professional institutions where relevant in the subject area as they are always keen to provide advice and put you in contact with someone who can guide you. Contact employers for advice and look at company website career pages to spot skill areas in demand.

What are your future career plans?
I have now retired but provide volunteer support to a local charity using much of the IT knowledge and people-skills I have gained during my career.

Are you still in touch with fellow alumni?
In general I have lost contact with most of my fellow alumni but fortunately I do keep in contact with school friends and previous work colleagues. I find ‘LinkedIn’ invaluable for maintaining work colleague contacts and it can be invaluable for career networking.

Have you been back to campus since you graduated?
Yes. I was pleased when my daughter chose Southampton as her university and I have returned on more than one occasion including, of course, her graduation day.

How else are you involved with the University and your alumni community?
My main involvement currently is providing regular donations but I hope to become more involved with events and possibly helping students with career/employment choices where relevant.