Sunday, October 12, 2014

Little Did I Know

One day at work I was bored and surfing the web trying to look busy and for some reason or another I started looking up the old computers that I learned on. I started reading about the IBM 360 but while I was reading it work got in the way so I booked marked the page. That bookmark would lead to an amazing discovery.

Several months later I went back to it and as I was reading it, it dawned on me that the article was on Lynn Conway but the title of the bookmark said Robert Conway…?
Life, Engineered
How Lynn Conway reinvented her world and ours
Michigan Engineering – University of Michigan
Story by Nicole Casal Moore

On a two-lane Texas highway in January 1978, it hit Lynn Conway that she might be leading a revolution.

She was 40 years old, driving a gold, wood-paneled Dodge wagon from Cambridge to Palo Alto on a southern route to stay out of the snow. She passed much of the trip with the windows down, flipping through radio stations for Boston's latest anthem or a Gerry Rafferty saxophone riff.

The last two years had been a blur. Conway had been working for Xerox on a daring project that would democratize microchip design – break it out of the vaults of the big semiconductor firms so the "personal computers" these futurists envisioned might begin to take shape.
If we have our heroes, Lynn Conway is one of those heroes. Because of her what you are reading this was made possible. The article that I was reading back in the late 90s was about a revolutionary breakthrough in computers that was made in the early 70s by Lynn Conway.

When she transitioned she also began a new job,
…She started as a contract programmer and quickly ascended to Memorex and then to the high-profile Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. 
And from there…
But she didn't know how to make microchips. So she learned. Then she ignored most of what she absorbed. Conway and Mead felt that the process needed to be reimagined, standardized and simplified.
[…]
A textbook would take the new concepts straight to the next generation. The team began writing "Introduction to VLSI Systems" and self-published the early versions at Xerox.

"The book was a landmark," Chuck House, director of InnovaScapes Institute wrote in the IEEE special issue about Conway. "The paradigm shift that enabled Apple's and Microsoft's emergence had vital antecedents that have largely remained obscure. Conway's role there, while crucial, has often seemed behind the scenes to outside observers."
So the next time you pick up your smartphone you will know that a trans-woman made that possible.

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