Quantum computing, Computing, Harvard University, Qubit, Physics, Atom : Working in Industry or Academia?
Both are really different. Now i’ve worked in two quantum computing startups and i’ve also done undergrad research and graduate school research and i’ve also worked in a bunch of startups outside of the quantum space in general. So i know a little bit about how startup and industries operate now. Obviously, i’m a little biased toward industry because that’s, where i’m at and that’s, where i’ve been since 2015.. But it used to be that if you were in graduate school and you wanted to go into industry, you’d sometimes be looked down upon and the professors wouldn’t really support you or your job hunting efforts, because it wasn’t deemed as worthy of a career path. As going into academia and becoming a professor was, but it seemed that that has changed over the years and a lot of more people have supported that and also there’s a lot of startups in the quantum space and big companies getting into the game. And i personally know that i’ve loved working in the quantum computing industry. So what are the actual differences between doing quantum computing work in industry and quantum computing work in academia number one? The goals are different. First of all, industry is a business, and a business needs to make money somehow so forget about all those companies that go ipo with zero business models, not to name a few social media startups out there. It happens, of course, but a business needs to create a product and a product needs to have value to people in academia.
The goals are a little bit different, it’s about being on the cutting edge of science and publishing and sharing knowledge, also great goals, but very, very different, so in quantum computing. What caused this explosion in industry? Well, we were getting to the point in academia where we had gone and actually discovered a lot of the science things that we needed to actually scale, but academia didn’t really focus on scaling and that’s where industry really stepped in. Rarely would you see papers published from academia talking about? Well, we had one qubit, and now we did two or five or ten and actually focusing on the scaling itself with the same parameters. Academia was really focused on pushing the boundaries of science and, of course, working on novel inventions. So, for example, my lab group we’re working on quantum telecommunication and increasing the coherence time or length of time that quantum information could be stored in certain atoms and then we could send those atoms over a long distance and do quantum communication. And we did that. First, by focusing on fundamentally different technologies. So, for example, we first started with rubidium atoms and then we started doing rydberg atoms and we even did some experiments with four wave mixing, which was taking the photon and actually changing the wavelengths of it and seeing if the quantum information could be preserved. However, what we weren’t doing was building real life, quantum telecommunication networks. We were doing this all in the lab in a test space, so a company in the space that might be attacking this from the actual industry level might be focusing on different things like manufacturing the equipment efficiently.
You know, instead of having a undergrad, build all the electronics and hardware they probably want to have it professionally, built and they’d be focusing on actually building the networks and setting up the partnerships to be able to do that so again, very fundamentally different goals, even though We’Re all aligning on the same technology. Of course, these research endeavors will be focused a little more on things that actually will help the company build their products, so just understand that there might be a little more limitations in the research going on there number two the pace, so i saw my advisor, maybe Once a week when i was doing, research and i’d have friends that would see their advisors, maybe once a month and some that would only see them once per quarter. So the iteration cycles and the cycles on when you could get feedback on your work were pretty slow. Some labs and groups have weekly meetings, but that doesn’t happen everywhere, and so even getting together with your colleagues, sometimes was a little more difficult industry. However, moves really fast, we have stand up once a day and in stand up, we talk about what we did yesterday, what we’re gon na do tomorrow and any blockers that we have that way. Maybe your team has seen a similar bug in the code before or they know where a part is that you’re missing and they can actually help unblock you a lot faster, of course, there’s some cases where you’re going to need a day or two to unblock yourself And just need some time to think, but the point is you’re checking in with yourself and your action steps every day and knowing what you need to do to get to the next step, and is that a little more stressful? Well, maybe a little bit.
I mean you can’t, really get away with slacking off the whole day and spending your entire day doing nothing, because you actually have a check. In i mean, maybe you can slack for a day, but you’ll have to say at the end of the day, what’s blocking you and again, people can then help unblock you, and i also want to say that moving fast and having fast deadlines and a lot of Iterations does not mean that the tasks that you’re working on are super easy. The tests can be very difficult in both academia and industry, but even if it’s a longer term project, i can say something at stand up like well. I was working on x approach to this problem, but i found a white paper about it and maybe i’m going to spend a day or two and actually try this y approach, because i think it would help some of our key metrics. And this is what i’m evaluating the previous work against our work now, and that will help me keep me accountable to the shortest critical path, and i love this shortest critical path thing, because it helps really unblock you in your work and know exactly what steps you Need to take to get to the next step and actually keep moving forward in your projects. This approach will help guide my work over the next days, weeks or months and actually keep us moving towards the end goal that we need to achieve.
So personally, i love this pace and i love the structure because it helps me move really fast and also makes it really open to ask questions and learn from others. Now this approach isn’t for everyone, some people like a really hands off approach and i’m, not saying that you always move slower in academia. What i’m saying is that in academia, you can be left alone, a lot more, which means you have to have a lot more self discipline and you might need to focus on a lot less guidance to keep yourself moving forward at that fast pace, and some people Are really good at that and really enjoy that and some people don’t, and they want that guidance speaking of pace. One thing that both industry and academia have in common is that i got to do a lot of travel, so i want to say thank you to the sponsor of this video anchor my trusty charger packing before the airport, so i’m doing work on my phone. A lot i’m reading articles posting on social media listening to music and podcasts and that drains my battery really quickly, anker has launched the anchor nano charger and the fact that it charges three times faster than the original charger really fits into my life. That means, if i’m, on the run, i have a break at a coffee, shop or i’m running to catch a flight. I can charge my phone for 15 minutes and get a few more hours of use out of my phone and i know i know i’m addicted to the phone, but hey that’s, the quantum robot deep, fake software engineer, influencer life and it’s super tiny.
So when i am on the run, i can fit this into my purse really easily it’s half the size of the original charger, so i can have it on me all the time. Thank you anchor number three collaboration in physics, research, the physics labs tend to be full of only physicists. However, in industry there are a lot of different people coming to work on these quantum computing problems, so, for example, you’re going to have physicists but you’re also going to have electrical engineers. Software engineers, material scientists, finance people, product managers, all sorts of people coming together to make this quantum computing industry a success, so you get to work with a ton of different people with all sorts of backgrounds. So to me, the most toxic and annoying part of academia was the fact that if you ask questions, some people will consider that you were stupid. However, in industry, because we come from all sorts of different backgrounds. Well, you can’t expect everyone to be on the same page about everything. So asking questions is really important. We all have a different set of things that we know and what we don’t know and honestly, if you don’t ask questions you’re kind of going to get left behind and not move as fast as other people. Why would you just sit there and waste a week when someone on your team has this amazing expertise that you can use and apply to your work to move even faster in programming? We actually have this concept called rubber duck programming and when you’re stuck on a problem, what you want to do is actually explain your problem to the rubber duck, or maybe another team member.
That knows very little about the project that you’re working on and what happens is as you’re going through the problem and explaining it to people in simple terms, you’re often going to actually find your solution as you’re talking through the problem, even though they don’t respond at All so collaboration, all these insights from different people are going to help you with your growth. Of course, if you want to only work with physicists, well, physics lab research may actually be for you, but it shouldn’t limit you. Even if you want to stay in academia, a lot of universities now have applied physics departments and the cool thing about them. Is they kind of mirror this industry setting where you have a lot of people from all different backgrounds, working together on the same project? So you can get that similar experience, but i will say that the opposite is actually not true in startups. I don’t know of a single quantum computing startup with more than a handful of people that only has physicists it’s, always multi disciplinary. So if you definitely never want to collaborate with people outside of physics, industry is not for you and number four where’s. Your time actually spent. So, for example, theorists that end up coming to industry may spend a lot more time doing coding or simulation work and again that’s totally fine. It just comes down to personal preference, you’re, also not going to be spending a ton of time teaching in general.
So if you want that experience teaching in a formal classroom and setting with students, academia may be a better path for you, but that doesn’t mean that teaching does not exist in the quantum industry space. I mean hey. Look at me, i’m sitting here, doing a youtube channel on quantum computing, so i’m still teaching it’s just less formal and i’ve run workshops with people from all age groups and all different backgrounds. In the end, i loved studying physics, because what i learned was number one: how to learn things very, very quickly and number two: how to model the world around me from first principles, and then i could apply that to different things. So i worked in hardware in software and even customer facing roles, and i really enjoyed the growth i got in all of them, but i did need to spend a lot more time getting practical hands on skills, for example, to successfully transition to being a software engineer. In industry, but what i knew is i loved being hands on. I love the pace of the work, especially in startups, so i knew that academia was probably not the best fit for me anymore. So, if you’re interested in quantum computing industry, where do you even find the jobs in quantum computing and what skills do you need to qualify? Should you study physics, cs math electrical engineering? Well, this may seem like a little bit of a simple answer, but do you want to do physics? Do you want to do software engineering, or do you want to do electrical engineering? All are valid paths and all have their space in quantum computing, and let me tell you there’s a lot of quantum computing companies out there doing different things, so i really recommend going to quantumcomputingreport.
com and actually looking at all the quantum companies there and seeing what they Do go through their job postings and see what jobs really intrigue you and what degrees and what skills do they ask for, for example, if you’re a chemist, maybe going to quantum startup that’s, focusing on variational quantum eigensolver and looking into that applied to chemistry, applications that Can be a great fit for your skill set and you can transition your skills adjacent to it. For example, there are some companies that are focusing on quantum chemistry and using the variational quantum eigensolver. So if you studied chemistry before, maybe you can learn a little bit about quantum mechanics, but you can use those chemistry, skills and move into the quantum computing space through those companies and actually use your expertise and at bleximo we really understood that people that came in From different backgrounds that weren’t physics based are going to have less quantum computing background and that’s totally okay, what we’d actually do is every two weeks we’d have a team meeting during lunch and order food and have what we called learning cafe for a couple hours and One person would actually present and teach something about their field to everyone else, so we’d have presentations on quantum computing, but also electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and do hands on tours. This was a great way for everyone to learn and collaborate with each other. So really, the most important thing is showing that enthusiasm for learning and taking those skills that you have and transitioning them to the quantum space you don’t need to do an entire phd to be involved in quantum computing.
Take your skills and apply them to the quantum computing field, maybe you’re in finance, and want to actually focus on studying these optimization problems in finance or, like i said in quantum chemistry and want to look into variational. Quantum eigensolver i’ve also seen a lot of people who come from the high performance computing space who are transitioning to quantum computing, because it kind of feels like the 1970s again and a product manager. That’S worked in ai or some chip manufacturing actually has a lot of great insights to bring to the quantum computing industry so in the end, remember enthusiasm and learning. Those are super important and remember to ask questions.