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Lynn Conway      

Transgender Pioneer & Computer Scientist

Lynn Conway is a transgender pioneer and computer scientist who revolutionized information technology by inventing new methods that greatly simplified the design and fabrication of complex microchips. Conway rebuilt her life in tech after her transition and continued to make great advances and contributions to the field. She later publicly came out as transgender and became an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.

In 1968, Conway was fired from IBM for being transgender. But she was determined to succeed, against the odds, and started all over again in her career. She took a low-level programming job and worked her way up through the ranks. In 1973, Xerox offered Conway a position at its new (now famous) research division, PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), which is where the personal computer, word processors, and Ethernet were invented.

Her work at PARC is legendary in the tech community, and she spearheaded the Mead & Conway revolution, which was partly named after her. This achievement allowed the placement of more transistors on a single computer chip, which made it easier for engineers to create more efficient and higher-capacity computer chips — which directly led to modern computer processors. This design revolution was the spark that started the Silicon Valley boom in the 1980s.

After her time at Xerox PARC, Conway moved to the Department of Defense before settling into a career in academia, teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later at the University of Michigan.

In 1999, Conway decided it was time to break her silence on her gender transition. She has since become a vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and created a website to tell her story of her gender transition. IBM honored Conway with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020. During the virtually held ceremony, SVP of Human Resources Diane Gherson publicly apologized to Conway for how she’d been treated by the company. Conway experienced her share of setbacks due to discrimination, but her contributions to modern-day computing technology are undeniable. Her success and advocacy work will help to pave the way for a more inclusive STEM culture in the decades to come.

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