About Ellen

Things about me…

What should you do if you never decided what you wanted to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be many things when I was a child – astronaut, college professor, marine biologist, pediatrician. There were so many options! And I ended up as none of these.

All through high school, I knew I was going to go to college for something sciency; my father worked at NASA, and my mother was a nurse – I felt like it was in my blood. When I was in college, I entered the Chemistry tract; my parents knew one of the Chemistry professors, who became my advisor. I ended up not enjoying Chemistry. I switched to Biology because I enjoyed one professor’s lectures. Along the way, I took math classes because I enjoyed them. At the start of my senior year, the department head informed me that if I took 2 more Math classes, along with my other required classes, I would have a degree in Mathematics, Biology, and a minor in Chemistry.

I graduated with these science degrees, but they weren’t specialized. No one wanted to hire me, because I had no experience. I spent the last 4 years in school – when was I supposed to get experience? I was burnt out with school and couldn’t see myself going to graduate school. So now what? Somehow, I found a job on a small island in the Pacific, Johnston Island (JI), one of the most remote places in the world. One of the best things that ever happened to me. When I arrived on the island, I knew nobody. JI is 4.5 miles long by 1.5 miles wide. Very small. It is basically a runway surrounded by a road and buildings on either side. It looks like an aircraft carrier. But it was small enough that meeting people was not a problem!

I worked in the laboratory in the air monitoring department at a chemical demilitarization plant. We destroyed weapons containing the chemical agents GB, VX, and HD. As the non-agent chemist, I didn’t do much with monitoring for chemical agents. I ensured that the emissions from the plant met environmental standards. I also ensured that air quality monitors around the plant and the island were working correctly. Even though it was a stressful job with long hours, it was one of the best experiences of my life. I made many friends, completed my master’s degree in Computer Systems Management, and met my wife. I lived on that small island for 13 years, only leaving because the project was completed, and I was laid off. They kicked me off the island.

When I returned stateside, I took a break. I worked on reintegrating into a fast-paced society that was, quite frankly, strange. Traffic on JI consisted of a few vehicles, one bus, and many bicycles. The only traffic jams were caused by landing and departing planes. Traffic in a large city in the US? Terrifying. And it was wonderful that you could have a craving for something (potato chips, lettuce), drive to the store, and buy it, and they would have it. Amazing. This was, of course, pre-pandemic.

After 2 years, it was time to figure out the next step. What did I want to do with the rest of my life? I decided I try computer programming, and so I got a job as a programmer. It was challenging at first, but I figured it out. I worked for 15 years in the financial space (loan processing, payments processing). During this time, I worked my way up to lead software engineer. At the end of my career, I was the Solutions Architect for a large payment processor.

Then came layoff #2, during a merger with a larger company. During this time, I continued public service as a Town Councilmember for a small rural town. This was a full-time volunteer position that was not appreciated. I also helped care for my ailing mother 3-4 months out of the year. She lives across the country, so we use the opportunity to escape winter. Once you’ve lived on a tropical island, it is difficult to do winters. Finally, my 2 terms on Town Council were complete. Also, we had procured sufficient care for my mother. I finally had time to pursue other opportunities. I am retired now, but I don’t want to coast until the end – I need to be challenged. I decided to start this blog to share my knowledge with the world.

So, what do I want to do with my life? What do I want to be when I grow up? I still don’t know but come along for the ride, and we’ll figure it out.