I want to tell you the story of Lynn Conway, an American computer scientist, electrical engineer and inventor who made an immense contribution to the development of society, despite constant stigmatization.
If modern computer processors, based on VLSI technology – Very Large Scale Integration, could speak, they would be grateful to Lynn Conway for their existence. She pioneered the creation of microchips, and her textbook Introduction to VLSI Systems, co-authored with Caltech´s Carver Mead, as well as her work in the ’70s at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), are now considered to be the beginnings of the technology that brought us microprocessors and memory chips.
Based on the work of Jack Kilby, the invention of the transistors (invented by John Bardeen, Walter BrattainandWilliam Shockley), and the MOS transistors invented by Mohammed Atall and Dawon Kahnga, Conway provided the basis for the design of silicon chips and the whole revolution in the development of human society that began with these inventions. Today, we say that the theoretical basis on which this information breakthrough is based on the Mead & Conway revolution. Microchips of this design created the most powerful PC devices of the time and paved the way for the creation of even more efficient computers.
Lynn was born on January 2, 1938 in White Plaines, New York. As a child she was interested in science and her love for science began with astronomy, building a reflector telescope one summer. Born as a boy, she felt gender dysphoria from an early age, dissatisfied with her gender identity.
In 1955 he enrolled in MIT, but quit her studies, due to depression caused by a failed attempt to change gender. The climate in the medical community at the time was not in favor of these changes, and the degree of scientific knowledge that gender change could be made was not sufficient. After a while, Lynn returned to her studies, this time at Columbia University, earning  B.S. and M.S.EE degrees in 1962 and 1963.
After graduation, Conway was recruited by IBM, joining the architecture team designing a supercomputer, leading to her work on IBM´s Advance Computing Systems Project (ACS).
Around that time, Conway learned about the work of German-American endocrinologist and sexologist Harry Benjamin in the field of gender transition and the treatment of transgender women. Benjamin’s 1966 book, The Transsexual Phenomenon, is a seminal work in this field. Conway, who at this point is struggling with with severe depression caused by gender dysphoria, eventually decides to contact Dr. Benjamin and opts for therapy.
Conway, living as a man had married and fathered two children. After the transition, she was denied seeing her children. 1968 IBM fired Conway because of her gender transition. At IBM, they were shocked by her decision, because at the time, transsexuality was only related to men who imitated women or worked as prostitutes. During the transition process, Lynn was completely alone – losing not only her career and professional reputation, but also friends and family. She had to make new friends and work hard again to prove herself.
When Conway completed the transition, she took on a new name. She started her career all over again as a low-paid programmer with no past. Her adaptation to her new role was completely at odds with the horrific predictions of IBM executives, her friends and family had made prior to transitioning.
However, Lynn became happy and hopeful after the transformation, that nothing was too difficult for her. She was free of her depression and that was evident in her career. Conway went on to work for Memorex as a digital system designer and computer architect. She joined Xerox PARC in 1973.
By 1978, 10 years after the gender transition, Lynn already had reached international fame in her field of VLSI innovation. Conway served as a visiting associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, teaching the famous VLSI design course based on the Mead-Conway text. Within two years, universities around the world adopted her book for similar courses.
In the early 80´s, Conway went to work at the Department of Defense where she was a key architect of a research program studying high-performance computing, autonomous systems technology and intelligent weapons technology. However, Conway´s past was very much a secret and she feared losing her career and civil rights again if her transition became public knowledge. Only her closest friends knew what she had gone through. Today, we find it amazing that a person, who has nothing to be ashamed of, had to live in shame and fear.
Nearing retirement, Conway learned that the story of her early work at IBM might soon be revealed in a publication being prepared. Conway began quietly coming out as a trans woman in 1999. Conway used her personal website to tell her story in her own words and in 2000 the Scientific American and the Los Angeles Times published her story more widely. After going public, Conway began to work in transgender activism intending to “illuminate and normalize the issues of gender identity and the process of gender transition.”
Conway openly accepted her new role – the role of a transgender rights activist, a person with gender dysphoria and a person who has undergone gender reassignment therapy. Although the world has become less hostile to these individuals, there are still frequent instances of rejection, excommunication and job loss. With her activism, Conway has given hope to transgender persons and initiated processes that will hopefully lead to a better understanding of this condition, opening a societal dialogue with transgender persons, rather than society being dismissive and expressing disgust.
Lynn Conway has, through her scientific work and activism, done a great deal to raise the profile of transgender persons, advocating strongly for their rights and equal opportunity. In an age where intolerance is so prevalent we should perhaps all take heed and embrace the difference, whether it be based on gender, color or religion. It just might lead to something better.
Translated by Jonas Helgason
This text was produced with the support of the United States Embassy in BiH as part of the “U.S. Scientists Who Changed the World” project and we thank the US Embassy.




Jelena Kalinić, MA in comparative literature and graduate biologist, science journalist and science communicator, has a WHO infodemic manager certificate and Health metrics Study design & Evidence based medicine training. Winner of the 2020 EurekaAlert (AAAS) Fellowship for Science Journalists. Short-runner, second place in the selection for European Science journalist of the year for 2022.