March has been Women’s History Month. A time to reflect on the contributions women have made to society at large. While women have made invaluable contributions specifically in the fields of technology and computer science, these have not always been well showcased. Fortunately, this pattern is starting to be reversed with women from Grace Hopper to Sister Mary Kenneth Keller being discussed in mainstream media.
At Synetec, we support diversity, equality and an inclusive workplace for all, especially needed in STEM industries like ours, where there are still some challenges to address. We’re proud of our diverse workforce and believe this is core to our ability to deliver the best service to our customers – drawing on the rich experience and culture that diversity brings to our organisation. So we’re reflecting on the female impact on our industry.
Lynn Conway is one woman who has made a huge contribution to computer science. Not only is she a pioneering woman in technology and computer science, she is also a trans woman.
Conway was born as Robert in New York State in the 1930s and quickly developed an interest in astronomy. After highschool, where she expressed an interest in maths and astronomy, she was educated at MIT and Columbia, before going on to work at IBM.
Work at IBM
While working at IBM, Conway undertook pioneering research inventing dynamic instruction scheduling (DIS). This work made the creation of the first true super-scalar computer possible. Unfortunately, as her research was part of a top secret group it remained largely anonymous for years.
In 1968 Conway decided to begin transitioning to living openly as a woman, upon disclosing this decision to IBM she was fired.
Computer Science work
Following her transition, Lynn Conway restarted her career in computer science and began working at Xerox PARC. While working there she was the lead authorof the “Introduction to VLSI Systems” textbook, launching the international revolution in VLSI system design. Her VLSI research is credited as being the basis of much of the microchip work that has since followed.
Following Xerox, Conway worked at DARPA before going on to become a professor at the University of Michigan.
In the fall of 2012 IEEE published a special edition of their IEEE Solid-State Circuits Magazine that features Lynn Conway’s “VLSI Reminiscences”. This publication tells Conway’s story in her own words as well as reflections on her contributions from other scientists.
Lynn Conway began coming out to her colleagues and friends as a transgender woman in 1999, eventually leading to major profiles of her and her work in Scientific American. Since her announcement she has become a prominent transgender activist. Conway has campaigned in favour of employment protections for transgender persons, among other causes.
Lynn Conway has been the recipient of many awards for both her computing work and transgender activism. A selection of these awards are listed below.
- National Achievement Award, Society of Women Engineers, 1990
- Computer Pioneer Award, IEEE Computer Society, 2009
- “Stonewall 40 trans heroes” by the ICS and NGLTF, 2009
- Fellow Award, American Association for the Advance of Science (AAAS), 2016