Employee Spotlight: Miro Urbanek, Senior Quantum Applications Engineer

We sat down with Miro Urbanek to talk about his quantum journey and why he's passionate about the work we are doing here at Atom Computing.

Why did you decide to get into quantum computing - what is your passion with this field?

Miro: I used to work on physical simulations that ran on classical computers before working in quantum computing. Some of my simulations were too slow even on supercomputers. I realized that classical computers could never solve these problems efficiently. However, quantum computers can and that's why I decided to turn my attention to them.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned since working in this field?

Miro: I tried to find an argument why quantum computing is fundamentally impossible, but I couldn't find any such reason.

What gets you excited about how quantum computing could change the world? What is a problem you are passionate about that quantum computing may help solve-for in the future?

Miro: I'm interested in simulations of physics, chemistry, and other natural phenomena. These are really hard applications for classical computers, especially if they involve quantum effects. In particular, I want to help researchers who design and explore novel materials to use quantum computers. Improved materials can lead to better batteries and other advances in energy production and storage. Applications of quantum computers are still largely unexplored. We'll only discover their full potential in the future.


Tell us why you chose to work at Atom Computing?

Miro: Neutral atoms are the most promising platform for scalable quantum computers. In fact, there have been many experiments with neutral atoms that are impossible to simulate on classical computers today. I also liked the expertise and spirit of the people working at Atom Computing.

What is one piece of advice you’d offer someone in high school or college considering getting into this field?

Miro: Learn math. Numbers rule the universe!

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Employee Spotlight: Toni Jones, Firmware Engineer

We sat down with Toni Jones to talk about her passion for quantum, how important software development is, and the journey of continuous learning.

Why did you decide to get into quantum computing? What is your obsession with this field?

Toni: My background is in software development. In this discipline, you learn that software can be applied to just about any field out there. I’ve always been passionate about the sciences; the ability to develop software that brings scientific theory to life is super exciting.
Not only is quantum computing interesting from a scientific standpoint, but it’s also about creating a whole new type of computational tool. I can’t imagine a more exciting prospect for a computer enthusiast than applying their craft towards revolutionizing computing in such a novel way.

What gets you excited about how quantum computing could change the world? What is a problem you are passionate about that quantum computing may help solve-for in the future? 

Toni: I had always heard that quantum physics was weird, and the more I learn, the more I am intrigued. With a foundational knowledge of physics, I think most of us assume we have a pretty good feeling for how most natural processes should play out. However, quantum physics takes what we think we know and flips it on its head. What we take for granted as “intuitive” can just be flat-out wrong. For me, this puts some wonder back into the universe. Luckily for us, quantum “weirdness” can be harnessed to work for us. 

Tell me why you chose to work at Atom Computing?

Toni: What initially drew me to Atom Computing was my desire to work on new types of challenges, and apply myself to an interesting and impactful field. The size of the company, and the variety of technical requirements involved, enables a lot of opportunities for challenging myself. I also knew some of the engineers working at Atom Computing which gave me a great sense of confidence in the culture and quality of the team. Now I work with a phenomenal group of coworkers, spanning many disciplines. My respect for the team continues to grow and their passion for quantum is infectious!
What is one piece of advice you'd offer someone in high school or college considering getting into this field?

Toni: Everyone’s journey will be a little different. Never let what you do not yet understand scare you off. There will always be so much more to learn. Success isn’t about knowing everything. It’s about knowing the fundamentals, building on those whenever you can, and finding time to make learning a continuous journey.
Throughout my career, I’ve often been faced with new technical challenges. And while they are intimidating at first, getting out of your comfort zone is a part of learning. Instead of doubting yourself by asking “Should I know this?”, approach the situation as an opportunity to add to your expertise. Leaning into challenges is the best way to develop yourself and get to where you want to be.

Employee Spotlight: Remy Notermans, Quantum Engineering Manager

We sat down with Remy Notermans to talk about his passion for quantum, how he got started in the field and advice for those considering a career path in quantum engineering. 

Why did you decide to get into quantum computing? What is your obsession with this field?

Remy: When I first started seriously reading up on quantum computing - about 5 years ago - I realized that from an engineering standpoint we are on the brink of building useful machines. There were already some very exciting results and advancements in the field, but it wasn’t clear to me how anyone would be able to dramatically increase the number of qubits. As this problem was festering in the back of my mind for a year or so I happened to get in touch with the founders Atom Computing: Ben Bloom and Jonathan King. They laid out their strategy for building a platform that would be able to scale the qubit numbers across many orders of magnitude; and with my experience of the optical, atomic physics and engineering involved, it didn’t take much to convince me about the feasibility of their ideas.
I simply had to join this company and take part in the exciting journey of creating a truly scalable quantum computing platform. It is extremely energizing to realize that I’m working in an industry where many landmark breakthroughs are bound to happen - and already have happened.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned since working in this field?

Remy: One of the most striking things to me is that despite the variety of technologies involved with the development of the physical platforms, the hardware and software stacks are developing to a point where a user - looking from the top down - can be fully unaware of the physical platform and just think about the abstract quantum circuits they want to run or the mathematical problem they want to solve. As I work at the lower end of the stack I am seeing how we map these very physical platforms and processes to abstract mathematical operations and algorithms. This is one of the most interesting and fascinating things I’m learning in this field.

What gets you excited about how quantum computing could change the world? What is a problem you are passionate about that quantum computing may help solve-for in the future? 

Remy: Pharmaceutical applications are the most exciting commercial application for me personally because it could push pharmaceutical R&D forward at unprecedented rates. This would have two potentially major advantages: access to medication that was previously thought to be impossible to develop, and reduced R&D times leading to cheaper medication.
But I’m also still a physicist, and I can’t stop wondering about fundamental physics or mathematical problems that can be investigated with quantum computers. Major breakthroughs in science and technology have often been driven by unguided and curiosity-driven research -- so enabling quantum computing to be a broadly available resource will inevitably lead to new revelations. I take pride in knowing that I’m playing a (arguably very small) part in this.

Tell me why you chose to work at Atom Computing?

Remy:When my conversations with Ben and Jonathan started to be very serious, Atom Computing had just hired its first employee. I felt like I could get along very well with the three of them. There was a very sensible, no-nonsense approach to the technical challenges ahead of us. It was the typical start-up promise: the goals will be ambitious but not impossible. I was motivated by the opportunity to watch the company grow, while having the ability to learn about the many different aspects of how a small company is run. Additionally, I was energized by being a part of the development of the company’s first quantum computing platform.

When I joined the company our meetings were in a coffee shop, and private meetings took place by walking around the block. It was the quintessential start-up experience combined with a very strong desire to be part of something that was in its early stages that lured me in. We are doing some promising work here to make quantum real.

What is one piece of advice you'd offer someone in high school or college considering getting into this field?

Remy: Software skills are the name of the game. Yes, you can go to grad school and specialize in any of the fields that would improve your chances in the quantum computing industry. However, for any role on the engineering side you will be expected to write software. That could be software to build features, to analyze data, or to automate parts of a system. If you can manage to combine a physical sciences study with computer science (it doesn’t have to be a 50/50 split), you will have a competitive advantage. This will improve your ability to quickly integrate into new teams and increase your job mobility.
On a more personal level: If you are curious and interested in quantum computing, the best way to learn more is to reach out to researchers or companies! Most people (like me) are happy to set aside time to talk about their jobs and to provide advice. The worst case scenario, you simply learn about someone’s job. The best case scenario, you build a connection with someone who can offer career advice or even guide you to an opportunity down the road. It can be somewhat intimidating to reach out to strangers, however, it does get easier the more you do it. In my experience, responses will often be overwhelmingly positive.

Employee Spotlight: Mickey McDonald, Senior Quantum Engineer

We sat down with Mickey McDonald to talk about his passion for quantum, how he got started in the field and advice for those considering a career path in quantum engineering. 

Why did you decide to get into quantum computing? What is your obsession with this field?

Mickey: I originally got into quantum physics because I loved the idea that experimentalists could build machines to tackle a huge variety of really fundamental questions.

In my own PhD I helped build an experiment designed to answer basic questions like “Are the fundamental constants of nature really constant?” and “Does the law of gravity break down at small length scales?” But since graduating, I’ve started to realize that asking questions is only half the fun - actually applying what you learn to build something useful can be hugely rewarding too.

It’s taken us nearly a hundred years after the  discovery of quantum mechanics, but we’re finally at a point where we understand the theory well enough to be able to leverage its ideas to build truly amazing machines like quantum computers.  And once we figure out how to assemble large enough arrays of qubits with low enough error rates, quantum computers are going to emerge as a paradigm-shifting technology.

The idea of being part of that technological revolution was just too exciting to pass up, so I couldn’t turn down the chance to be part of a team working to make it happen.

What is one key thing you’ve learned since working in this field?

Mickey: I learn something new every single day! And frankly, I enjoy that journey of constant learning. I did feel a little of the imposter syndrome when I first joined Atom Computing  - I had basically zero coding experience, and I didn’t really know anything about how quantum computing actually worked. But I’ve learned to embrace that uncomfortable feeling of “not knowing”, because that’s the first step towards having to ask questions and learn something new. It’s so important to surround yourself with amazingly-talented people that can help push you out of your comfort zone, people you can learn from. I find it extremely energizing to work with a group of brilliant people who share that same passion for learning - and who are just as excited as I am to be making quantum computing a reality.

What gets you excited about the possibilities of how quantum computing could change the world? What is a problem you are passionate about that quantum may help solve-for in the future? 

Mickey: I've always been excited by the idea that we might be able to design complex, quantum-mechanical materials from first principles. The traditional way of discovering new, useful materials or drugs has typically been to accidentally make some unusual thing, or harvest some weird thing from nature, and then subject that new, weird thing to tests to discover what it ultimately might be useful for. 

Quantum computing has the opportunity to flip that discovery process on its head. For example, it would be great to approach a problem from the perspective of  "I need a material which does X, subject to Y constraints", and then go solve a very complicated math problem to figure out how to make it. Having access to useful quantum computing machines I think will make those types of workflow scenarios a reality. That’s the kind of problem solving I’m most excited about quantum computers being able to unlock in the future.
Tell me why you chose to work at Atom Computing, and what was appealing about working at a start-up?

Mickey: When I joined Atom there were only a half dozen employees and we were building something we still weren't entirely sure would work. I love being in that kind of environment where every single person on the team has a huge impact on whether the thing you're trying to build will end up being successful. 

I have a fierce passion for problem-solving and I get to flex those muscles every day in different ways. Working for a start-up offers the ability to test out new ideas, move fast, and problem solve along the way. 

I also really believe in our technology platform. There are a lot of really difficult problems to solve en route to having a useful quantum computer, and high on that list is the ability to scale. We already know that neutral atoms can make great qubits, but what’s even more exciting to me is the fact that we have a clear path forward for how to scale to truly huge numbers of them. That gives us an opportunity to potentially leapfrog other platforms, and that’s a really exciting place to be.
What is one piece of advice you'd offer someone in high school or college considering getting into this field?

Mickey: Study hard, build things, have fun learning math and science, and never stop asking questions! (Sorry, I guess that’s four pieces of advice…)

A lot of my job involves thinking hard about quantum mechanics, but that's actually only perhaps 5% of my time. I spend the great majority of my time building stuff, experimenting with lasers and atoms, problem-solving a million different things, and figuring out ways to write code that will make life easier for me and my fellow engineers. 

I think the most important qualities to being a successful quantum engineer include being genuinely curious, having a strong drive to understand the way things work, and having a relentless passion for solving problems.