What to study to pursue a career in quantum computing
Learning quantum computing is a safe bet. Indeed, this is the case now, and it will be so much more so in the future. In today's market, there is intense competition between universities and private businesses for the best and brightest employees. And it's not plentiful because there aren't enough qualified people to devote themselves to study, tool creation, or incorporating quantum solutions into the daily operations of businesses that could use them.
Over the past two decades, quantum computing has made great strides, but there is still a long way to go. We need additional quality qubits, error correction systems, novel quantum algorithms, and better development environments, among other resources, to keep this field moving forward. This justifies the importance of the skilled labour that so many organisations and businesses want.
There is a war for the best quantum computing experts right now, with academic institutes and even private enterprises vying for the best candidates. Plus, it's not something you'll find everywhere. We spoke with Juan José Garca Ripoll, a researcher at the Institute of Fundamental Physics of the Higher Council of Scientific Research (CSIC) who conducts his research within the Quantum Information and foundations of quantum theory group, to get a better idea of the pathways available to those interested in training in quantum technologies in order to enter this very attractive market.
Not only does Juan José have an amazing resume, highlighted by his almost five-year postdoc at the famous Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics (Germany), but his best characteristics are his pedagogic and concrete abilities, as will be seen below. In addition, it stays in constant touch with the academic and corporate communities, giving us a clear picture of the skillsets sought for by organisations like research labs and businesses that have already made the leap to quantum computing.
Obtaining education in quantum technology is becoming easier. Those who have devoted themselves to the field of quantum computing have taken a different route than the one open to anybody interested in this field today. In reality, there is no one set way into this industry, so people may pursue the entry point that works best for them. Juan José explains his career path that has led him to become one of Spain's foremost experts in quantum computing:
Drawing of Juanjoripoll While I was in school, quantum computing was either unheard of or at best a fringe idea. I began working on my thesis in 1997, and there were publications out there at the time, but they were still theoretical in character and lacked substantial and scalable practical realisations," he says.
"I stepped into the field of quantum computing on the periphery. In the department of applied mathematics, where I did my thesis work, I initially studied quantum systems but later shifted my attention to the design of quantum hardware for experiments. "Sometime between 2001 and 2006 is when I first heard about quantum computing and it sounded like a promise for the future," Juan José reflects.
"Although some qubits had been developed at that time, many individuals still held the view that a quantum computer with more than three or four qubits was impossible to construct. They were sure it wouldn't work. This scientist at CSIC says, "The path that led me here is very different from the ones that are available right now."
My background is in physics, therefore I had to educate myself in the field of computers. I wanted to learn to code, so I studied the physics required to comprehend the hardware's operation, as well as the algebra of quantum systems, which is fundamentally different from that of classical computers.
"My background is in physics, so I had to teach myself about computers." "This is, in my view, a fruitless course of action." Not very effective. Master's programmes in quantum technologies or quantum computing are now a viable option. "What we're talking about is still very specialised training, so it's not something a high school student could do on his own to learn and develop his intuition," Juan José tells us.
He wraps off this section of our chat by stressing the need of mastering the basics of computing before diving into quantum technologies, saying, "What a young student should do is start studying computing fundamentals." Like, say, picking up Python or any other programming language. Before diving into the realm of quantum computing, it's crucial to get a solid foundation in traditional computer programming.
Quantum physics, the mathematics of quantum systems, and algorithms are the three cornerstones of a comprehensive education in quantum computing. Because of this, anyone interested in physics, mathematics, or computer engineering might consider pursuing professions in this area of expertise. These three ethnic groups provide a decent first step, but more are required. A person who is interested in getting into quantum computing may do it without going to college as their first stop. As Juan José argues, there are alternative, less demanding possibilities that serve as equally alluring jumping-off points:
There are now several paths open to someone with interests in this area. Although reading books and developing one's intuition about the workings of the quantum world can help, learning Qiskit (or another quantum computer programming system) is crucial in order to become familiar with the quantum algorithm programming environments that are already available.
"To make really useful contributions, a person has to have a minimum background that can come from the field of physics, mathematics, or computer engineering," However, in order to make significant contributions and apply all this to applications and research, you need to have at least some training in either physics and mathematics, which can lead to a master's degree in quantum computing, or computer engineering. According to this expert, "in any case, it is necessary to acquire a deep knowledge of algorithmics and how the problems that we want to solve in quantum computers are solved right now."
Right now, these options are the least expensive ones. More and more individuals are choosing to do one of these things, yet we're still having trouble recruiting top talent. Finding employees with the required expertise is a major challenge. "Someone who has a background in physics will find it easier to learn quantum mechanics because he has already studied it in his degree, but he will need to familiarise himself with the world of algorithmics, learning the basics of what an algorithm is, how complex it can get, and how problems are solved," Juan José explains.
He goes on to stress the significance of familiarity with quantum physics, saying, "People who come from the field of computer engineering have the challenge of jumping into the world of physics and learning quantum mechanics." When I have directed master's theses for computer science majors, I have noticed a strong resistance to studying quantum physics. However, the problem is that learning quantum physics is a prerequisite for learning quantum computing. If you want to learn how a quantum computer works, you're not going to have the intuition to do it.
Every algorithm we create is like a mini-thesis.
There isn't much you can add by futzing about with Python and existing algorithms. Juan José argues that in order to have a deep understanding of the universe, one has to study quantum physics and also have the computer science background to understand how algorithms are constructed.
Since quantum computing is so different from traditional programming, the workplace is still challenging. Every algorithm we create is almost a dissertation. Although it takes a lot of time and energy, the end result is well worth it. Due to the scarcity of experts in the field, demand for their services is strong across the world.
Juan José pursues his research interests as part of the Quantum Information and Foundations of Quantum Theory Group at the Institute of Fundamental Physics at the Spanish Higher Research Council (CSIC). "The folks who have gained this foundational instruction in physics and computer science right now have a very exciting future ahead of them. In the future, when additional libraries and tools have been developed, things are likely to become more concrete and user-friendly. Currently, there is a lack of standardised methods. You don't have to worry too much about which firm is providing you the quantum computer since there are a number of alternative programming environments available, such as Qiskit or PennyLane, and also start-ups that are building front-ends to conduct processes and test tools. However, as Juan José explains to us, "none of this has been consolidated as of yet."
"Perhaps in about five years we will have a very broad battery of problems ready to be solved by quantum computers."