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A guide for tomorrow’s quantum workforce

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Welcome to the future. It’s 2022 and the nearly billion-dollar quantum computing industry has evolved from a passion project for forward-thinking physicists into a thriving B2B industry. Experts predict that the market for quantum technologies will quadrupled in value by 2029.

Simply put, there’s never been a better time than now for potential job seekers to take part in what could be arguably the biggest technological revolution since the advent of the internet. But what if you don’t have a PhD in physics or a background in quantum research?

Do not worry. The world of quantum technologies will need much more than just project managers and theoretical physicists in the coming decades and beyond. Especially in Europe, where the industry is on the verge of the drive for useful innovation a huge period of growth.

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This article gives you a brief overview of the current and anticipated opportunities in the quantum industry and what you need to know to take advantage of them.

(Wikimedia Commons: “A zoom in on a wafer from D-Wave Quantum Computers”)

There are plenty of opportunities

There are at least a dozen companies in Europe developing hardware solutions for quantum computing applications. And on the other side of that coin, numerous companies are working on components, operating systems, software and quantum applications. All this means that we will need a lot of human power, and not just those with a master’s or PhD degree.

That information comes from a report from venture capitalist and analyst Alex Kiltz, who also says the European Union will almost match US government spending between now and 2028. More interestingly, Kiltz says Germany will spend almost twice as much over the same period.

What this all points to is a potential job boom for certain specialties bordering on the field. While it is certainly true that the quantum industry will need a lot of quantum physicists, it is fair to say that almost every STEM category will be in demand in the future.

Theoretical physicists often collaborate with mathematical specialists and computer scientists in the early stages of quantum computing research and development. And when it comes to building the actual computers, it doesn’t just require engineers with specialties ranging from cryogenics to lasers, but there’s also the development of the software and algorithms that the machines will use to demonstrate calculations.

Finally, once a quantum computer is deployed, it requires a sophisticated IT team. If it exists on-site, for large customers such as government agencies, the site must house a team of scientists, engineers, and machine learning specialists to ensure the system works properly. And if the system is set up for cloud access, it needs a similar IT team plus someone who is also capable of operating the cloud infrastructure.

The people responsible for building, deploying, maintaining and operating these systems will be at the cutting edge of technology. As if that weren’t incentive enough, Glassdoor says the median wage for a quantum computing engineer is about $125,000 a year. There is definitely money to be made on the cutting edge.

(Wikimedia Commons: A dilution refrigerator at the London Center for Nanotechnology)

A quantum education

There are essentially four ways to get involved in the quantum computing revolution from the inside:

  • Pursue a PhD/Master in theoretical physics or a relevant engineering program with a specific focus on quantum technologies.
  • Get a STEM degree in almost any adjacent field, and be sure to take a few courses related to quantum physics as well.
  • Apply or acquire related STEM skills and qualifications.
  • Invest in quantum technology companies and startups.

The first may take the longest, but it is also the surest way. It is difficult to find specific figures for the EU, but in the US experts expect total employment of physicists to grow by as much as 8% between 2021 and 2031 – a faster pace than all other professions.

Through the current size and speed of investment in quantum technology of the EU and its individual Member States, it can be safely said that Europe should experience a similar need for new physicists.

Those who want to fill that gap can always enroll in one of the continent’s prestigious schools. Europe does not produce alone most physicists in the worldbut Denmark even stands out in that it produces the most per capita, with 635 tertiary education graduates per year per million citizens.

But as mentioned above, you don’t actually have to be a physicist to participate. Those considering a college degree in almost any STEM field can increase their chances of working in the quantum sector without straying too far from their core disciplines.

As Celia Merzbacher, executive director of the Quantum Economic Development Consortium, told recently Symmetry: “Companies are eager to hire people who come from traditional engineering schools with expertise and knowledge in various classical fields such as photonics and software engineering. With an extra course or two in quantum science, they would be well prepared for a job in this field.”

Some areas of study to consider:

  • Lasers/photonics
  • Cryogens
  • Applied mathematics
  • Computer technology
  • Artificial intelligence / machine learning
  • Advanced technical degrees

The third option is a bit more vague. Those already working in STEM, or autodidacts with a penchant for learning complex paradigms, could, at least in theory, learn how to program quantum systems through one of the many open-source projects available.

There is a wide need for skilled quantum programmers and machine learning specialists who are proficient in both Qiskit and TensorFlow. You may be able to get the right certifications without spending much more than the cost of your Internet access, but you could be competing with college graduates for positions at larger companies.

Finally, you can always get on board the quantum train by opening your wallet. There are countless public quantum tech outfits and more are popping up all the time. It is beyond the scope of this article (or its author) to provide financial advice, but here is a list of them 24 examples of quantum stocks in which you can invest. You can also get involved the quantum VC scene and also finance one of the dozens of startups in Europe.

(Wikimedia Commons: A 128-qubit superconducting adiabatic quantum optimization processor from D-Wave)

Our quantum future

Once you have gained relevant background and/or credentials, your job prospects in the quantum realm will largely depend on your geography. Candidates in China, the US and Europe often have an edge over those in other countries, but the rise of remote working has done much to level the playing field.

It is also worth noting that with high demand often comes high quality competition for the most prestigious spots. Fortunately, the outlook is still quite rosy. A recent research conducted by a multi-disciplinary team of researchers found that the quantum technology industry was likely to offer plenty of opportunities for specialists, but those with traditional STEM training not focused on quantum technologies would still be seen as highly sought after by companies in the sector. The same researchers also indicated that this would be just as true for people with a bachelor’s degree as for PhDs.

Most of this article focuses on how you can be part of the burgeoning quantum technology industry. Now let’s shift that focus to Why you would like to build quantum computers or adjacent technology.

Aside from being a lucrative field of study at the cutting edge of STEM, the quantum computing industry is also a robust platform for technology of the distant future. Sure, there are other industries where you can make a lot of money, but working in quantum may mean solving some of the greatest mysteries of the universe.

Supercomputers and advanced machine learning algorithms have brought us to the point of understanding the quantum nature of the universe. Maybe we’re about to understand wormholes, dark matterand the exact size of the universeand quantum technology could push us over the edge.

We will also need quantum computers and sensors to take particle accelerators, fusion experiments and artificial intelligence to the next level. And who knows what else they will do? We are still in the infancy of quantum technology. That means we are just as capable of understanding the possible future uses of quantum in 2022 as computer scientists were able to predict the iPhone in the 1950s.

Meanwhile, the companies currently active in the quantum industry are increasingly developing new applications for the technology. Quantum sensors are currently used in a variety of fields, from construction to pharmaceutical chemistry, and hybrid quantum computers are being used to speed up processes in the shipping, pharmaceutical and energy industries.

As new hardware technologies develop, as well as the operating systems, software, and algorithms required to run them, those opportunities should only increase. Ultimately, quantum computing will impact almost every industry in Europe in one way or another.

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