Ullman's adoptive father's family included computer scientists and mathematicians who had a major impact on her decision to pursue software engineering, a field for which she did "not have native talent." Ullman earned a B.A. in English at Cornell University in the early 1970s. She began working professionally in 1978 as a programmer of electronic data interchange applications and graphical user interfaces.
She eventually began writing about her experiences as a programmer. From 1994 until 1996, she published articles in Harper's Magazine and in the collections Resisting the Virtual Life and Wired Women. She lives in San Francisco.
- Close to the Machine: Technophilia and its Discontents San Francisco : City Lights Books, 1997. ISBN 9780872863323
- Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology New York: MCD, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017. ISBN 9780374534516
- The Bug New York, N.Y. : Talese, 2003. ISBN 0-385-50860-3
- By Blood: A Novel New York, N.Y. : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. ISBN 9780374117559
Selected articles and essays
- Out of Time: Reflections on the Programming Life (included in the 1995 collection Resisting the Virtual Life, ISBN 0-87286-299-2)
- The Myth of Order. The real lesson of Y2K is that software operates just like any natural system: out of control 
- The dumbing-down of programming 
- How to Be a 'Woman Programmer' 
- Twilight of the crypto-geeks: Lone-wolf digital libertarians are beginning to abandon their faith in technology uber alles and espouse suspiciously socialist-sounding ideas. 
- Geeks Win: A survey of the oddballs who write the codes that make the 21st-century world go round 
- The Orphans of Invention 
- The Boss in the Machine 
- Identity Stolen? Take a Number 
- Dennis Ritchie 
- Ellen Ullman (1 January 2009). "My Secret Life". The New York Times. San Francisco. p. A23. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 24 December 2011.
- "Women Who Inspire Us". GirlGeeks. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- "Interview with Ellen Ullman: Of Machines, Methods, and Madness". IEEE Software. Los Alamitos: IEEE Computer Society. 15 (3): 42–45. May 1998. doi:10.1109/ms.1998.676733. ISSN 0740-7459. S2CID 916133.
- Scott Rosenberg (2003-05-16). "Bugged out". Salon Magazine. Retrieved 2017-10-05. (Interview about her novel The Bug.)
- "The Myth of Order. The real lesson of Y2K is that software operates just like any natural system: out of control". Wired. April 1999.
- "The dumbing-down of programming: Rebelling against Microsoft and its wizards, an engineer rediscovers the joys of difficult computing. First of two parts". Salon.com. 12 May 1998.
- "The dumbing-down of programming: Part Two: Returning to the source. Once knowledge disappears into code, how do we retrieve it?". Salon.com. 13 May 1998.
- "How to Be a 'Woman Programmer'". NYTimes.com. 18 May 2013.
- "Twilight of the crypto-geeks: Lone-wolf digital libertarians are beginning to abandon their faith in technology uber alles and espouse suspiciously socialist-sounding ideas". Salon.com. 13 May 2000.
- "Geeks Win: A survey of the oddballs who write the codes that make the 21st-century world go round". The New York Times Book Review. 4 November 2001. p. BR18. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "The Orphans of Invention". The New York Times. San Francisco. 22 May 2003. p. A33. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "The Boss in the Machine". The New York Times. San Francisco. 19 February 2005. p. A15. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Identity Stolen? Take a Number". The New York Times. San Francisco. 17 July 2006. p. A17. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Dennis Ritchie, b. 1941". The New York Times Magazine. 25 December 2011: 24. Cite journal requires
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