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06.09.2023

    5 LGBTQ+ Innovators in Tech You Should Know

    By The Fullstack Academy Team

    R2 FSA 5 LGBTQ Innovators in Tech You Should Know Landscape

    Last updated 6/3/2024.

    Despite growing efforts to create more diversity in STEM, LGBTQ+ tech professionals continue to face disproportionate challenges and inequity in the workplace. According to a recent study in Science Advances, LGBTQ+ professionals are 20.2% more likely to experience devaluation, and are 30% more likely to experience workplace harassment.

    In addition to harming or othering valuable employees individually, these trends can cause lasting harm on an organizational level. That’s because supporting inclusion and diversity in tech is critical to driving innovation and paving the way for a brighter future.

    To celebrate queer and trans trailblazers and help inspire the next generation of tech professionals, we share the stories of some of the most significant LGBTQ+ innovators in tech. Read on to learn how the contributions of these individuals revolutionized global technology, from ARM processors to the foundations of artificial intelligence and beyond.

    Peter Landin: Computer Scientist

    1930 - 2009

    Background:

    Born in Sheffield, England, Peter Landin studied mathematics at Clare College and Cambridge University. He was a pioneer in programming languages and semantics, and established theories that primed the industry for decades of advancement. Early on, Landin worked as a computing consultant while independently publishing research papers on programming languages.

    Later in his career, Landin dedicated much of his time to educating the next generation. He helped establish a computer science department and curriculum at London’s Queen Mary College, where he later became an emeritus professor of theoretical computation. He also gave lectures on advances in programming languages at the Oxford Computing Laboratory. Landin was openly bisexual and a vocal socio-political activist who was actively involved in the Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s.

    Innovation:

    Peter Landin was among the first to recognize that mathematical logic, specifically lambda calculus, could be used to describe and map programming languages. This was essential to the development of functional programming and universally understandable coding semantics. This insight led Landin to invent the Stack, Environment, Control, Dump (SECD) Machine—the first abstract machine used for a functional programming language.

    Peter Landin is also credited with inventing the ISWIM programming language, introducing the off-side rule still used in Python, and coining the term “syntactic sugar.” He was constantly coming up with new innovations and owned patents for various technologies, including a cash register, a phonograph, and even a motion picture film.

    Lynn Conway: Computer Scientist

    1938 - Present

    Background:

    Born and raised in New York, Lynn Conway displayed an early aptitude for astronomy, math, and science. After working for several years as an electronics technician, she pursued an education in electrical engineering at Columbia University. In 1964, she joined IBM Research and worked on an architecture team developing advanced supercomputer models.

    Lynn Conway was one of the first individuals in America to undergo gender affirmation surgery in 1968. After voicing her intention to transition, Conway was laid off by IBM. However, she relentlessly continued on, relaunching her career in “stealth mode” with a new name and identity. Over the following years, she focused on developing microchip technology at various organizations. Today, Conway is a prolific activist fighting for equal opportunity and employment protection for transgender people in tech, as well as a professor emerita of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan.

    Innovation:

    Lynn Conway is revered as a trailblazer in supercomputing and microchip technology. While working at Xerox PARC, Conway collaborated with fellow engineer Carver Mead on creating VLSI design methodologies. Their results created the foundation for modern-day VLSI technology and transformed what was possible in consumer electronics. This landmark work became the standard for microchip design and enabled the technology powering today’s smartphones.

    Like Peter Landin, Lynn Conway played a significant role in tech academia. Conway and Mead’s VLSI Systems textbook sold over 70,000 copies. Using this material, Conway taught a VLSI design course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1978, which was quickly adopted by over 120 universities.

    Sophie Wilson: Computer Scientist

    1957 - Present

    Background:

    Sophie Wilson was born in 1957 in Leeds, England, and studied computer science at the University of Cambridge. Over one Easter break, she designed a microcomputer that was used for electronic cattle feeding. Her ingenuity caught the attention of Acorn Computers Ltd., where she joined as a programmer in 1978.

    She transitioned in 1994 and is regarded as one of the most influential trans women in American history. In 1999, she founded a start-up company based on her revolutionary Firepath processor design, which set the framework for global DSL infrastructure. Broadcom, one of the world’s largest chip manufacturers, acquired the startup in 2000 and brought on Sophie as chief architect.

    Innovation:

    Throughout her career at Acorn Computers, Sophie Wilson expanded upon the company’s BASIC programming languages to allow for more sophisticated home computer designs. Then, in collaboration with a colleague, Steve Furber, Wilson designed the BBC Micro computer, which was widely used in British homes and schools, selling over one billion units.

    This success was only the beginning of Wilson’s legacy. She also created the now-ubiquitous ARM processor with a breakthrough, energy-efficient design. Over 50 billion ARM processor cores have been produced and are still used in thousands of devices, including mobile phones, computers, video games, and more. Few people have impacted the tech industry and society at large as significantly as Sophie Wilson. Perhaps this is due, in part, to her can-do mindset; Wilson famously quotes, “Not knowing something is impossible has interesting effects on your work."

    Alan Turing: Mathematician

    1912 - 1954

    Background:

    Alan Turing is considered one of the founding thought leaders in AI and digital computing. He studied mathematics at the University of Cambridge from 1931–1934, then earned a Ph.D. from Princeton University in mathematical logic.

    After graduating, he entered the Government Code and Cypher School, helping systematically crack encrypted German radio codes during World War II. He was later named an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for this service. Despite these valuable contributions to his country, Turing faced persecution due to his sexual orientation. He was sentenced to 12 months of invasive medical “therapy” in 1952, as homosexuality was a punishable crime in Britain at the time.

    Innovation:

    Alan Turing, often referred to as “the father of the computer,” wrote the first-ever programming manual, and his programming system was used in the first digital computer in 1951. However, he is perhaps best known for creating the Universal Turing Machine, the forerunner of the modern digital computer.

    Turing was also a leading proponent of the concept of artificial intelligence. He was among the first to propose that a computer could become an organized, universal machine that processes information similarly to the human brain. In a 1947 lecture, he stated, “What we want is a machine that can learn from experience.” Turing’s theories laid the foundation for much of the advancement in artificial intelligence unfolding today. He even designed the “Turing Test” to determine whether a machine is capable of independent thinking.

    Edith “Edie” Windsor: Computer Programmer

    1929 - 2017

    Background:

    Edith “Edie” Windsor was born in Philadelphia and earned her undergraduate degree from Temple University. She went on to pursue a master’s degree in mathematics from New York University and a postgraduate degree in applied math from Harvard University.

    Windsor is best known as the plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, opening the doors for nationwide marriage equality. Yet, many do not know that she was also a leader in the field of technology and computing at a time when very few women, especially lesbian women, were in the field.

    Innovation:

    Edie Windsor began a 16-year career at IBM, starting off as a mainframe programmer in 1958. Her roles were predominantly tied to systems architecture, natural language processing, and operating system implementation. Thanks to her renowned debugging skills, Windsor became one of the first female senior systems programmers in 1968, the highest technical position attainable at IBM.

    In 1975, Windosr left IBM to found PC Classics, a consulting firm specializing in software development. As president, she focused on assisting LGBTQ+ organizations with software development projects to advance their operational efficiency and tech literacy. Lesbians Who Tech now offers the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship Fund, which helps fund coding-school tuition for queer and gender-nonconforming women, including the Fullstack Academy and Grace Hopper Program Coding Bootcamps. To learn more about Edie Windsor, you can read her memoir, A Wild and Precious Life.

    Why We Share Stories of LGBTQ+ Innovators in Tech

    While more opportunities are opening for historically marginalized groups in tech, a 2023 study by the research firm Catalyst found that 23% of LGBTQ+ technologists reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace. Of those surveyed, trans professionals reported much higher proportions of discrimination (31%).

    By sharing the legacies of these five LGBTQ+ innovators in tech, we remember their lasting contributions and remain cognizant of the value of diversity in STEM professions.

    At Fullstack Academy and the Grace Hopper Program, we are dedicated to helping prospective professionals from all walks of life see themselves in tech and provide accelerated pathways to career readiness. Fullstack Academy bootcamps also feature dedicated career success services to help students overcome imposter syndrome, navigate their chosen industry, and negotiate the right career path. Additionally, if you are seeking a safe, gender-allied learning environment to gain in-demand tech skills, explore our Grace Hopper Program Coding Bootcamp for women and non-binary professionals.