J. Norman Bulkley qualified as an electrical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1889. That same year he and G.B. Lauder published Efficiency of alternating current transformers. He was elected an associate member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in October 1890, at which time he was a superintendent at the United States Aluminium Metal Company in Boonton, New Jersey. Subsequently he worked in the mining department of the General Electric Company, and then as Chief Engineer in the mining department of the Pennsylvania Electric Company. Upon his arrival in the Transvaal before the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) he was appointed Chief Engineer at the United Engineering Company, Johannesburg, a post he still occupied in 1902. He was declared insolvent in 1905.
Bulkley joined the South African Society of Electrical Engineers, which flourished briefly from 1897 to 1899. In September 1899 he read the last paper presented to the society before war broke out, on 'The electric equipment of modern mining plants'. In 1916 he published an article on the 'Application of electric power to Rand mining work' in the South African Mining Journal, based on a paper read before the American Institute of Mining Engineers.
Bulkley was married to Charlotte L. Chalmers. After her death in 1927 he married Vivien Ford. He left no children.