Happy (belated) seventy-seventh birthday to Dr. Lynn Conway, now emerita at UMich, who was dealt a really shitty hand in life and overcame it to revolutionize the field of electrical engineering, literally write the book on VLSI design (along with Dr. Carver Mead, of CIT), and, in the past fifteen years, become a outspoken trans-rights activist. She also rides motocross.
When I'm calling out heroes in STEM, I usually say something about the sort of challenges they had to overcome to achieve what they did, but Dr. Conway's story takes the cake. She was born physically male, which, as it turns out, is a really, really shitty thing to happen to you if you're a girl born in 1938. She's written a memoir on her life, which traverses the painfully personal, the fascinatingly technical, and everything in between, in the arc from her early struggles with gender identity; to her career at IBM (cut short when they fired her for transitioning male-to-female); to her subsequent second career-from-scratch at, well, everywhere; to her coming-out and subsequent trans activism. I don't have the words to recommend it highly enough. It's honest, raw, and inspiring -- oh, just read it.
Conway's accomplishments include:
- the Mead-Conway revolution in VLSI design (this is why you're able to read this on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop right now)
- "generalised dynamic instruction handling", used in out-of-order execution (this one's happening in your computer/smartphone/tablet/laptop right now)
- convincing the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (the professional EE organization, with >430,000 members...) to adopt provisions in its "Code of Ethics" prohibiting professional engineers from discriminating on the basis of "sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression".