Engineering Change While Staying Put

A version of this article appears in the spring 2019 issue of STILLPOINT magazine under the title “Vocation as: Rootedness.”

You could say Tim Ells ’78 stumbled into his career—and you’d be right. While studying at Gordon as a student one evening, he happened upon a new computer lab sourced by Digital Equipment Corporation in the back of the library. “I found it by accident but discovered I had a real aptitude for software programming,” Ells says.

The psychology major began adding computer courses to his schedule and finding other ways to meld his studies and his newfound hobby—including an internship in the information technology department of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health.

Ells landed a job as a software engineer right after graduation, eventually moving into systems engineering and then management. The company has changed hands three times during Ells’ tenure, but his post on the Taunton, MA, campus of what is now General Dynamics, a global aerospace and defense company, has remained.

For Ells, staying put doesn’t mean becoming complacent—it means becoming aware. In his words, “What can I do to use what I’ve got now to support what God is doing now?”

Tim with his granddaughter

In his 40-plus years on the front lines of technology change—from mini computers to personal computers to powerful work stations and servers—Ells says, “I’ve been amazed at the consistent and significant growth of computer power and software sophistication, and what you can accomplish through technology.”

And while these massive advances have brought about a lot of good, they’ve also left some people in the dark. So, Ells leverages his industry experience to help them. On his own time, he refurbishes retired computers donated by his company, upgrades the operating systems, and gets them ready for a new life. “Over the years I’ve developed relationships with missionaries, Plymouth County House of Correction, refugee folks in Boston”—providing much-needed technology at no cost.

“I have a stockpile of refurbished laptops that are ready to go when people need them,” he says. “It’s a fun thing to do and I view it as a nice outlet for the skills God has given me—to use them to help other people.”

Ells’ psychology training and faith foundation give him the rare lens to see the humanity in a world of technology. “Computers are the tools,” he says, but “I need to be able to understand my customers, relate to them, understand their concerns. How can I help my team meet my customers’ needs? But, also, how can I respect my team’s needs?”

Outside of his work as an engineering manager, Ells serves as an elder at South Shore Baptist Church in Hingham, MA, where he lives with his wife, Janet (pictured above). “God has given me leadership abilities and opportunities that I never looked for, and I can choose to be available or I can neglect those things God has given me,” he says. “This is exactly where God wants me to be. And I am going to use my skills to be a godly leader where I’m planted.”