Harold Lawson

Harold Lawson
Harold Lawson
Death date
IEEE Simon Ramo Medal


With a distinguished career that began under the mentorship of the legendary computer scientist Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Murray Hopper, Harold “Bud” Lawson has influenced the work of millions of software designers and programmers with pioneering work in hardware, software, and real-time system technologies. One of Lawson’s greatest accomplishments was the development of the pointer variable concept to deal with complex data structures in programming languages. The pointer variable has allowed programmers to effectively create higher-level language programs to solve complex problems in applications including computer graphics and systems programs such as compilers and operating systems. First introduced in the PL/I programming language in 1965, Lawson’s pointer variable concept has been implemented in a wide variety of general- and special-purpose programming languages including C, Pascal, C++, and Ada. Lawson established the on-board software architecture for the world’s first microprocessor-based automatic train control system, where he viewed the operation as continuous instead of discrete. This led to a stable and sustainable solution that has been functioning for over 36 years in Sweden and Norway. His concepts were further developed for vehicles and have also been utilized in the Haldex four-wheel drive coupling device used in millions of automobiles around the world.

Lawson has also contributed to standards development, helping to establish processes for systems life-cycle management. He was the elected architect of the ISO/IEC 15288 Standard, which served as the basis for the International Council of Systems Engineers (INCOSE) handbook on systems engineering used for certifying systems engineers. It also provided the framework for the Systems Engineering Body of Knowledge (SEBOK). Lawson also established one of the earliest programs in computer engineering (at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in 1967) and co-founded the first computer science department in Sweden (at Linkoping University in 1983).

An IEEE Life Fellow, Association for Computing Machinery Fellow, INCOSE Fellow and recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Computer Pioneer Award (2000), Lawson is a consultant with Lawson Konsult AB, Stockholm, Sweden.