#012 - Ellen Chisa

With Gutenberg

Profile image of Ellen Chisa

Ellen is an entrepreneur, a writer and the co-founder of Dark who aims to completely transform back-end services. Ellen is based in San Francisco, California.

Andy: Let’s do the important intro first. What pet have you brought along with you today?

Ellen: Today I have Gutenberg the cat! She’s a Mackerel Tabby, and 5.5 years old. We got her when she was a kitten, and have had her ever since. She loves all things engineering, education, and exploration. I’d been traveling a lot for the last year so it’s exciting to spend more time with her again!!

A mackerel tabby cat sits on a couch
Gutenberg, the Mackerel Tabby

Andy: Oh my what a stunning cat. I’m a huge fan of that name, too 🙂

I can only imagine how hard it was being away from her for so long. Did she stay with relatives or one of those fancy cat hotels?

Ellen: She was with my husband still! We were going back and forth, but he was in Boston more of the time. When we aren’t able to be with her we try to have friends stay in our place, we worked with Cat Lady Boston, who I highly recommend!

Gutenberg, Ellen and her Husband, Tom all sit together
Gutenberg, Ellen and her Husband

Andy: Oh, Cat Lady looks super good! There’s quite a few services around where I live where you can get someone to walk your Dog, but I’ve never seen one for Cats.

So, how long did Gutenberg sulk for when you were finally properly reunited? Whenever we go on holiday, our cats sulk for at least a week.

Ellen: Haha I’m not sure my cat would like to be walked! She does not like outside AT ALL.

She isn’t usually too sulky… although while I’m gone she has a habit of peeing on any shoes I leave out (and will avoid other shoes near them) My research indicates that this is because they smell the most like me, and she’s trying to show me that she wants to repair our relationship 😞

Andy: Oh my, that’s heartbreaking, albeit annoying to have pee-shoes, I imagine. Cats act all cool, but they are softies at heart.

Now that you’re fully reunited, is Gutenberg back to being your best pal then?

Ellen: Gutenberg is definitely my best pal again. She gets nervous when I take small trips, but mostly hangs out with me. She’s very aware of how people are feeling and will always come over to me when I’m feeling down.

A mackerel tabby cat sits in a bathtub
Cats have to bath, too

Andy: Cats are super good at picking up on things like that. They’re the best.

So let’s talk about you for a bit and what you do on the web. Do you want to tell us about what you do and what makes you tick?

Ellen: Yes! Right now I’m the co-founder of Dark—we’re working on making it orders of magnitude easier to write a backend, by setting up the right infrastructure as you go. It took me a long time to end up here. I realised two things as I worked on the web: First, that I love making things that help other people create. Secondly, most of the things I was frustrated by when writing code (syntax errors! environment dependencies!) were fixable.

The web is another tool, and I hate the artificial gates we put up around creating things for it! Our tools should be accessible to everyone.

Andy: Oh my, you are preaching to the choir here. I love that attitude. Anything that can enable developers to focus on what is important, like user experience, rather than tools will always get my vote.

You mention it took you a long time to get there. Do you mind sharing some of the pitfalls you’ve experienced on the way?

Ellen: Of course!

Early in my career, people kept telling me I wasn’t meant to be in software. I think everyone was well meaning, but it was much more about specific positions than it was about "software" as a whole. I think it’s really challenging to keep believing you want to do something when it feels like everyone is telling you no.

Similarly, when I spent a year at Harvard Business School, everyone felt I’d miss “too much” about the web, and it’d be hard to come back. I’ve always felt like getting the other perspective just helped me make better things.

Andy: That’s a super attitude from you and I wholeheartedly agree that other perspectives help you make better things.

Ellen, I reckon we’ve covered everything here, so let’s wrap up. How can people find you on the web and support the work that you do?

Ellen: I’ve enjoyed getting to talk to you, too!

People can find me on Twitter, I’m @ellenchisa and Gu is @gutenbergthecat! If people are interested in trying Dark they should sign up here and leave me a comment with what they want to do in the “anything else” box, and mention developur.rs of course!