Issue #7 - Lynn Conway

Welcome to the 7th issue of Heroes of Computer Science! I hope you’re enjoying your summer while staying safe and getting your jabs on. 💉

Shoutout to Jenny Judova for suggestion this issue’s computer scientist! If you have a suggestion for the next person to highlight, let us know by filling in this short form.

Lynn Conway

Lynn Conway is an American computer scientist, electrical engineer and transgender activist, notable for a number of pioneering achievements heavily focused on processors and microchip design & production.

In the 1960s, while working at IBM, Conway is credited with the invention of an important technique used in out-of-order execution, a paradigm that most modern computer processors use to improve performance. They will execute instructions based in an order optimised by the availability of input data, rather than following the original order in a computer program. This way, processors can start working on the next instructions that are able to run immediately instead of being idle while waiting for the previous instruction to complete.

Futhermore, in the 70s, she founded a new technology that made it possible to pack multiple circuit designs from various sources into one single chip, increasing production and decreasing its cost.

She co-authored a groundbreaking book that became a standard textbook in chip design, used in almost 120 universities by 1983.

Conway's body of work in chip design and design tools had a major impact in the industry, clearly convey by the number of awards and distinctions she has received so far. In 1998 she retired from active teaching and research.

She is also a transgender rights activist, having transitioned herself in 1968. IBM fired her at that time after she revealed her intention, and in 2020 IBM finally apologized for that — 52 years later. Upon completing her transition, Conway took a new name and identity, and restarted her career. After going public with her story in 1999/2000, she began working in transgender activism, providing direct and indirect assistance to numerous other transgender women going through transition.

Further reading

The best place to know more about Lynn’s life must literally be her blog, which she presents as a way to “illuminate and normalize the issues of gender identity and the processes of gender transition”. I highly recommend it. You can also find her on Twitter.

In her "wild garden," Lynn Conway shapes a landscape to both enjoy and encourage a healthy natural environment.