Lessons from Industry Leaders in Quantum Computing


By Jan Ole Ernst

The committee was unabashed by the continued presence of the corona-virus related restrictions and in Michaelmas 2020 we held an extensive series of very well attended virtual talks, presentations and events. In particular, this was the first time that we had the pleasure of welcoming three experts from the commercial quantum computing sphere. First up, Denise Ruffner, former Chief Business Officer at Cambridge Quantum Computing, who has now joined quantum computing hardware company IonQ spoke about the quantum computing industry as a whole and gave some crucial tips to our listeners who may want to break into this exciting area. We also welcomed Dr. Ophelia Crawford, from Riverlane, who spoke about Quantum Algorithms, particularly the application to quantum chemistry problems, as well as advertising and outlining the opportunities available at Riverlane. Our third guest near the end of term was Dr. Jonathan Burnett from Oxford Quantum Circuits who gave us a comprehensive rundown of the different quantum computing hardware implementations, as well as explaining the progress made on the development of OQC's very own quantum computer, the "Coaxmon". Links to Youtube recordings of all the events will be found at the end, but I want to share some key takes and insights from our guest speakers which were particularly interesting and valuable.

Be Proactive. It doesn't only require quantum physicists to build and implement quantum computing technology. The time of scalable quantum computing is now. 

Lesson 1: Be Proactive

If you want to get involved in quantum computing you need to be proactive, there are countless opportunities and as Dr. Burnett noted, these may not always be advertised. It never hurts writing an email or reaching out to someone who is involved with research or works at a quantum computing firm which fascinates you. Denise, who fields the flag for female representation in quantum computing pointed our listeners to the OneQuantum Network, particularly the "Women in Quantum Chapter" which focusses on bringing together like minded female scientists, students and entrepreneurs.

Lesson 2: All skills are important

You don't need to have a quantum physics background to contribute meaningfully to quantum computing research and innovation and it will certainly require more than just quantum physicists to drive the field forward. None of our speakers actually had a very specific background in quantum physics or quantum computing. Dr Ophelia Crawford did her PhD in geophysics and is now working on quantum algorithms. There are countless opportunities in quantum software for computer scientists, statisticians and mathematics who can bring important skills to the table in quantum software and quantum algorithm development who do not necessarily need a primary background in quantum physics. Likewise, building quantum computing hardware requires, depending on the implementation, a large variety of expertise from cryogenics, superconducting circuitry, semiconducting circuitry, optics and to electrical engineering. If you have a background in any related discipline there, your expertise is likely to be of value to a research group or a company. 

Lesson 3: The time is now

The time of scalable quantum computing hardware architecture is now. When speaking to Dr. Jonathan Burnett I tried to play devil's advocate and asked him when we would reach a stage where we could expect scalable quantum computing hardware which actually solves real world problems. He was unimpressed by my scepticism and argued that the time really is now. Without taking the wind out of the sails of the research team at OQC he is confident that the progress that has been made on the development of the Coaxmon, a superconducting qubit implementation, implies that we will very soon see a large number of qubits with high fidelity which will hopefully prove useful in solving real world problems

Quantum Information Society is a student society at the University of Oxford
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