Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Emerita, University of Michigan
Lynn Conway is Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Emerita, at the University of Michigan.
After studying physics at M.I.T., and earning a BS (1962) and MSEE (1963) at Columbia University, Lynn joined IBM Research in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Working on IBM’s Advanced Computing Systems project, she made foundational contributions to computer architecture.
Sadly, Lynn was fired by IBM in 1968 as she underwent gender transition, losing not only her job but also a promising young computer research career. A gritty survivor, she started her career all over again in 'stealth-mode'. Advancing rapidly to become a computer architect at Memorex, Lynn also began three decades of living in fear of being ‘outed’ and losing her career again.
Recruited by Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1973, Lynn invented scalable digital design rules for VLSI silicon chip design, and became principal author of the famous Mead-Conway text Introduction to VLSI systems. While serving as a Visiting Associate Professor of EECS at M.I.T. in 1978, she pioneered the teaching of these new digital system design methods – thereby launching a revolution in microchip design in the 1980’s.
While at PARC Lynn also invented and demonstrated an internet e-commerce infrastructure for rapid chip prototyping, spawning the “fabless-design” plus “silicon-foundry” paradigm of semiconductor design and manufacturing. Institutionalized by DARPA at USC-ISI, the resulting “MOSIS” infrastructure enabled rapid development of thousands of chip designs, leading to many major startups in the 1980’s and beyond.
As Assistant Director for Strategic Computing at DARPA, Lynn next crafted the meta-architecture and led the planning of the Strategic Computing Initiative, a major 1980's Department of Defense effort to expand the technology-base for modern intelligent-weapons systems.
In 1985 Lynn joined the University of Michigan as Professor of EECS and Associate Dean of Engineering, where she continued her distinguished career. Now retired, she lives with her engineer husband Charlie on their 23 acre homestead in rural Michigan.
As Lynn neared retirement, she faced ‘outing’ as stories about her early work at IBM began circulating. With a growing sense of pride in her accomplishments, she overcame her fears, quietly came out via the internet, and gradually created a major transgender advocacy website. Translated into many languages, her site has become a beacon of hope for gender transitioners world-wide.
Lynn also remained active in high-technology circles as an advisor, consultant, innovator and educator. She is currently affiliated with the Center for Wireless Integrated MicroSensing and Systems (WIMS2) at the University of Michigan.
In 2012, the IEEE published Lynn’s “VLSI Reminiscences” in a special issue of Solid-State Circuits Magazine. In that memoir Lynn finally began revealing how – closeted and hidden behind the scenes – she conceived the ideas and orchestrated the events that changed an industry.
A Fellow of the IEEE, Lynn received the Computer Pioneer Award of the IEEE Computer Society, holds an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, and is a Member of the National Academy of Engineering.