Quantum technology is moving fast and will make a big impact on designers and manufacturers starting in the next decade. But how and when should companies and individuals get started with quantum computing (QC)? And how can they move forward into QC when momentum and funding for it are strong but there’s a quantum talent gap? At the pace things are moving, universities won’t be able to graduate enough quantum mechanic Ph.D. students to meet the market’s demand.
So, should you train employees (or yourself) in QC software?
Becoming a Quantum Expert is Easy
Right now, anyone with even a year of QC experience is an expert; this technology just hasn’t been around long. It’s not going to be the same as companies asking for six years of experience programming in C++. They can’t ask for that kind of experience level in QC. If you can program a quantum computer, you are valuable right now. You don’t need to put in years of experience.
So, if you’re a software-savvy engineer and QC even vaguely interests you, act now. There will be a huge need in the market for QC skills; acquiring those skills will set you up for the future. If you can program a quantum computer, you are going to have a job. The demand for people with QC skills will only grow as the industry advances—and it’s advancing quite quickly.
Start reading a Qiskit book or check out one of the many other available QC books. There are also lots of free resources online. Everyone in the quantum arena is happy to teach everybody else because competition is not rampant…yet.
Get Your Hands Dirty and Start Learning
IBM is doing a great job supplying quantum know-how. It offers free interactive tools and videos. And you don’t have to pay a dime to start learning and programming actual quantum computers. So, don’t limit your education and exploration to an academic exercise; test your skills on real hardware. That’s the best thing you can do, whether you’re a CTO, CIO or an engineer trying to learn about QC. It will teach practical skills and help build confidence. It will also show you that QC is not some mysterious force of nature—it’s something practical.
Consider connecting with a small group of other engineers at your company to create and collaborate on a QC initiative. You don’t need a Ph.D. One of the winners in our recent quantum coding competition was a group of high school students.
And if you are a CIO, CTO or other business or tech leader, you should work to embrace and foster your employees’ desire to learn these skills. Value-driving business applications are coming, but there’s a huge talent shortage. Identify employees interested in QC or who already have skills and education that can be applied to QC, and then expand on that expertise.
Today most people are QC programming at the gate level. It’s the equivalent of punch card programming or, worse, physically connecting tubes in a computer to create programs. That works when there are only 10 wires. But it’s not viable if there are 1,000 or 10,000 wires. IBM, which has delivered ever more powerful quantum computers on schedule, has such computers on its timeline.
QC must move from manually intensive, gate-level programming to an approach where you tell the computer your intent and the computer implements it. This is ideal because it’s easy to describe what you want, but programming something like a Grover’s search or Shor’s algorithm at the gate level is a beast of a problem. If you create it at the gate level, it will take months to put it together.
Fortunately, new development tools employ abstraction to make quantum programming easier, faster, and more like classical programming. This opens the door for engineers who want to learn QC programming and means employers don’t have to hire new employees to support QC efforts.
The Importance of QC
QC is moving fast. Within a decade, it will have a major effect on business and society. If you’re not convinced, consider this recent investment and activity reported in the second half of 2021:
- McKinsey’s Quantum Technology Monitor reports there was $1.24 billion of finalized private investment in startups and $1.9 billion of announced government funding for quantum technology in his period.
- IonQ went public.
- Rigetti announced plans to go public.
- Honeywell Quantum Solutions and Cambridge Quantum officially became Quantinuum.
- Origin Quantum delivered it plan to introduce a 1,024-qubit quantum computer by 2025.
- AWS opened its Center for Quantum Computing at the California Institute of Technology.
Government is also fueling quantum computing’s growth. The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 established a National Science Foundation effort to focus on QC, among other technologies. The NSF’s work will make it easier for researchers to access government quantum computing hardware and clouds.
Find a Good Partner
Getting started with quantum computing may seem daunting to engineers and business leaders, but no one needs to go it alone. A good partner can help you understand what problems quantum computers can solve. (Quantum computers are great at certain types of tasks but they can’t solve everything.) A good partner can also help in choosing the best of the many quantum hardware devices and suppliers available.
Keep in mind that building quantum know-how and IP is kind of like planting a tree. It takes time. The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is right now.
Engineers and business leaders planting “quantum seeds” now will be at the forefront of building applications that let companies develop drugs in days instead of years, for example, because they can do simulations rather than trial-and-error experiments. They will program applications to make logistics more efficient and help find solutions to global warming. But that’s just a small sampling of what quantum will be able to do.
Starting your quantum journey now will let you build marketable skills that will be valuable in any industry. This will position you to walk into any company and be a quantum ambassador.
Erik Garcell is technical marketing manager at Classiq, a firm that is revolutionizing the process of developing quantum computing software with its quantum algorithm design platform.