Hopefully, you will get many useful answers to this question,
as I get the feeling there are many scientists here who also
program in Perl. I am one of those. I am trained as a PhD
Chemical Engineer, but I now call myself a bioinformaticist,
after working in this field for the past 5 years. My entrance
to this field was one of convience: I didn't really want to
be a "real" engineer, and I liked coding and had a biology
background by virtue of some of my research.
It seems to me that you do have a pretty good picture of our
field; the question for you is what to do about it. Since
you already have some engineering background, it might not be
a bad idea to go back and finish it (especially if you can
get someone to pay for it). Once you have a BS, you can
further evaluate where you want to go. For instance, there
are now graduate programs in Bioinformatics (UPenn and Stanford,
for example (I think)). The Stanford program might even be
entirely online, at least I believe that they (have|used to have) a
bioinformatics "certificate" program that was entirely online.
Whatever you deside to do, it will be much easier to do it
with the BS. You are still young (wippersnapper), eh, so
taking the time to get a BS shouldn't prove too painful.