Ellen Chisa is Looking for the Next Thing to Build Post Dark

Written by: Kiley Nichols
4 min read
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Ellen Chisa loves to build things. One of her first jobs out of engineering school was at Kickstarter, the grassroots crowdfunding firm, where Ellen says she “worked on how to get funding for people who want to build interesting things.” Since then, she’s had stints as product managers at high-tech companies, spent time at a technology-driven travel planning company, and regularly invested in startups.

Most recently, Ellen built a new programming language and co-founded a company called Dark, which helps developers write software faster with fewer distractions. She served as Dark’s CEO for several years before moving on last year.  

For Ellen, Dark’s unique development language promised to reignite her love of writing code, which had worn thin after years of tedium and repetitive tasks. “I wasn't enjoying the time I was spending writing software,” she says. “I was feeling like I was wasting time on writing boilerplate and constantly doing infrastructure chores.”

Ellen was also frustrated by the fact that code-writers are isolated and disconnected from their end product. Even though “you see the text and you know theoretically what it's supposed to do,” she explains, “you have to actually run the program to see what happens.” 

By combining the programming language, the editor, and the infrastructure in a single package, Dark aims to massively reduce the complexity of creating software. When developers using the Dark platform look at the code they’re writing, they’re simultaneously looking at its downstream impact. “As soon as you write anything, it’s already posted,” Ellen says. “It’s zero to ‘hello world’ in three seconds.” 

Remaking DevOps with Dark

New programming platforms like Dark hold the potential for remaking the DevOps landscape, ultimately allowing developers to build, test and deploy code in a single step. “This is a really important shift,” Ellen says. “I think it’s one of the things that will make it way easier for more people to be developers.”

Dark’s streamlined platform can also speed up software production, helping organizations go to market faster and reap returns sooner. However, she’ll admit that speed isn’t everything. She’s no fan of the “move-fast-and-break-things era” when people shipped software so quickly they lost sight of the downside impacts on their customers and even society. “I think that's a real problem,” she says.

Ellen believes the answer is to build software “thoughtfully” and with the ability to respond effectively if something goes wrong. This lets you safely profit from the upside potential of speedier development, she says. “You can experiment with more ideas and see what works instead of spending a lot of time thinking hard and building something that’s very expensive and also very wrong.” 

Ellen says her background in DevOps has helped her excel as a product manager, a profession that remains close to her heart (See her series of essays on the subject). As a product manager, she’s always preferred the DevOps way of working. “It gives you the ability to work as a small autonomous team,” she says. “You’re able to work on one thing together in real-time as opposed to having very structured hand-offs between groups.” This allows people to broaden and deepen their skills as they learn from their teammates. 

Ellen’s love of building things has led to forays into angel investing, where she advises startups involved in making everything from dev tools to consumer products. “It’s smaller checks and it's more community based,” she says. “I try to give back and really support people that are starting companies. It's a good way to accelerate serendipity and meet a lot of interesting people working on interesting problems.” 

What’s next for Ellen after Dark is anyone’s guess. “I'm in the process of figuring out what to build next,” she says. “There's a whole bunch of different paths out there.” 

Listen to more of Ellen’s story on Episode 92 of DevOps Radio.

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