Oriana Havlicek-Allen

Oriana Havlicek-Allen joined Atom Computing in 2020 as the office manager for the company’s headquarters in Berkeley, California, becoming the 15th employee and the first administrative hire.   In late 2022, she was promoted to her current role as a Human Resources Generalist.

Oriana started her administrative career in Los Angeles in 2012. Her focus was supporting nonprofit theater organizations such as Theatre West and others, helping them grow administratively, promote performances, and organize free table readings for the public. With her move to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2016, she developed an interest in human resources and obtained an advanced certificate in human resources and payroll from California State University – East Bay.

When she is not working, Oriana enjoys spending time with her husband and two dogs (which she brings into the office regularly). The water is her calling, and she spends time kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing, and relaxing on the beach whenever possible. She also enjoys handwriting letters to friends and family with handmade stationery using upcycled mixed media materials.

Tell us about your role as a Human Resources Generalist at Atom Computing. What does this job entail?

As an HR generalist, I focus on the day-to-day needs of Human Resources: recruitment, hiring, onboarding/offboarding, training new and existing employees, internal communication, and much more. Since I joined Atom Computing early on and worked on a variety of projects, I am also a go-to source for historical information regarding the company’s operations and business growth.

What projects are you currently tackling? What is your favorite part of the job?

Currently, I am working on updating an Emergency Preparedness Plan for our Berkeley, California and Boulder, Colorado facilities with our administrative team. I am learning on the job in other areas, such as coaching, employee relations, payroll, and legal/compliance regulations, to name a few.

My favorite part of being the HR generalist is connecting with the employees at Atom Computing. This role requires a high level of soft skills and being able to support staff in an HR capacity. I can provide my professional opinion and effectively work with  employees, most of whom have doctorate degrees in physics and other highly technical fields. Mostly, I get to be my most authentic self when doing my job while providing a service that is needed and respected.

You were one of the first employees at Atom Computing. How has the company changed during your time?

Change is inevitable when you first join a small business, though entering Atom Computing in February 2020 was something no one was prepared for. Initially, my role was your standard 9 to 5, Monday through Friday administrative role in which I wore many hats. By mid-March through July, we needed to problem-solve and adapt quickly with policies and procedures tailored for working during a global pandemic. Shelter-In-Place was new but changed how we perceived sick leave, remote/flexible working, and how we grew our company. Interviews were conducted entirely through telecommunication, onboarding was ever evolving, and we always tried to find ways to team build in a time of social distancing.

Fortunately, we persevered through the pandemic and have now expanded our workforce all over the nation! Vital departments have been formed, and technical teams are being developed. Atom Computing encourages employees to visit other out of state teams to make connections and build relationships. I look fondly at our past and look forward to our future.

Why did you join Atom Computing? What excites you most about working here?

It was after my in-person interview that I was eager to work for Atom Computing. Honestly, I didn’t even know what quantum computing was (I thought it was something only mentioned in science fiction) until I went online and checked atom-computing.com. I recall having a tour of the Berkeley facility and seeing our Phoenix prototype system with Ben Bloom, our founder, and telling him, “Even if I don’t get the job, it was cool to walk through the lab.” I am very grateful to have been offered the job working for the Atom team.

There are many reasons why I’m excited to work for Atom Computing. Mostly, it’s the people I work with and being able to be a part of something that would affect the world beyond my lifetime. It is fulfilling to feel confident in my work at a company that appreciates my efforts regardless of how big or small they are. To be part of the beginning of something profound like quantum computing is genuinely inspirational and something I will always keep close to my heart.

What advice do you have for people who want to work in quantum computing?

Unlike most other industries, quantum computing is relatively new and requires a particular set of experience and skill sets. In other words, finding a job in this industry is challenging. With that in mind, here are some things I find helpful:

Andrew Brown

Andrew Brown joined Atom Computing in 2022 and currently works as the Software Engineering Manager.  He earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and computer science from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

He started his career at Silicon Graphics, a high-performance computer manufacturer, where he worked for more than a decade in the computer graphics hardware industry, before retooling as a Web Software Engineer at extreme-programming (XP) practitioner Pivotal Labs and then working at various startups in the San Francisco Bay Area (LaunchDarkly, Nextdoor, Mixpanel).

In his spare time, he enjoys cycling, running, and walking his dog around the Oakland/Berkeley hills with his wife, Barbara.

Tell us about your role as the Software Engineering Manager at Atom Computing. What does this job entail?

At Atom Computing, we have a few teams of software engineers and I lead one of them.  My team is currently split evenly across our Berkeley, California and Boulder, Colorado offices.  I started as an individual contributor at Atom Computing, focusing primarily on building a greenfield customer-facing API.  I had prior management experience, and after a leadership change, I accepted the opportunity to lead the team.  Since then, my number one priority has been to ensure we have large, capable team to manage and iterate on all the services for which we are responsible. 

My goal is to empower my team and delegate as much work, technical decision-making, and leadership opportunities as possible. I serve as a moderator for discussions, and when necessary, an arbiter.  I communicate regularly with others groups at Atom Computing to learn about upcoming projects, establish their relative priorities, assess the resources we'll need to complete them, and evolve our processes to plan and execute more efficiently.

I do write code – and I love doing it – but when I do, I try to stay out of the critical path.  Many of the tickets I pick up involve upgrading and adding new code linting tools and keeping our CI infrastructure humming along.  I care a lot about developer productivity.  My last employer was in the developer tools space, and I also maintain and contribute to several open-source static code analysis tools.  My experience has led me to introduce several tools to the team that I believe allow us to communicate well while focusing on our work, and to reduce the duration of feedback cycles as we iterate on code.

What is the role of a software engineering team at a quantum computing hardware company? What projects are you and your team tackling?

The software team has quite a few responsibilities at Atom Computing.  There are several services and software packages whose maintenance is purely the responsibility of the software team.  These include some customer-facing APIs, Software Development Kits (SDKs) that talk to those APIs, and internal APIs that schedule jobs on our quantum hardware.  As our quantum computing hardware evolves, new software is constantly needed to make new features available to customers and partners. 

My team also owns portions of the tool chain that compiles quantum programs for execution on our specific hardware, and we have built and maintained simulation services that allow our users to experience the ergonomics of working with our system without consuming precious quantum hardware cycles.  For our internal users, we have built dashboards and other tooling that allow users to observe and control critical measurements and parameters that affect the behavior of our quantum computing hardware. 

Finally, we practice "dev ops" at Atom Computing, meaning that we don't have a systems team that will maintain infrastructure for us, so wherever we can, we manage infrastructure in code using tools such as Terraform and Ansible.

Software is the lingua franca of everything we do at Atom Computing, but not all the software in our codebase is written by software engineers.  It turns out that physicists also write software; this is how they describe the experiments they run on our systems, and nobody else is expected to write it for them.  One of our other jobs is to help guide these physicist-coders toward the best practices in software engineering to ensure that the systems we build are performant, maintainable, and extensible.  We do this by trying to get involved early in projects, holding training and ride-along sessions, reviewing code, and adding guardrails such as linters and proper automated checks.

How is this role different than other software engineering positions you’ve held?

Much of the work I do is more for internal customers than in previous roles.  At this point in the company's journey, our success is driven by how fast we can advance our technology.  Our physicists use the software we write to run experiments and analyze the results to help determine what their next experiment should be.  While the work of building APIs here is similar to many other software companies, the priority placed on optimizing certain workflows, be them human- or computer-driven, stands out.  If we do our job well, by minimizing turn-around times and automating away tedious tasks, we can advance this exciting technology much faster.

Why did you join Atom Computing? What excites you most about working here?

Toward the start of my career, I spent a decade working as a graphics chip designer at AMD.  The opportunity to work again at a very technology-focused company drew me to Atom Computing.  Throughout my life, I've enjoyed being surrounded by people with a more diverse set of backgrounds, and spending time around scientists – rather than just software engineers – fit that bill (even though I don't know what they're saying all the time).  With so much of the staff having come from academia, Atom Computing has a very different vibe than I found at fast-growing San Francisco Bay Area software startups, where sales and marketing employees typically outnumber engineers by at least two to one. 

There is a genuine thirst for knowledge among the staff at Atom, and for many of these employees working with this technology is a calling rather than just a job.  Finally, it is satisfying to be at a company that is genuinely making scientific advances that could someday make the world a different place.

What advice do you have for people who want to work in quantum computing?

It's not all rocket-science.  Quantum computing companies need engineers with all the same skills as at every other company.  If you're good at software development, there's no reason you can't exercise those muscles and grow your career at a quantum computing company, working on fascinating, challenging projects in the company of some very interesting people.

Kelly Ann Pawlak

Kelly Ann Pawlak joined Atom Computing in 2022 as a Quantum Applications Engineer.  She earned her PhD in condensed matter physics from University of California- Santa Barbara in early 2020.

Her dissertation titled, “New Directions in Correlated Electronic Systems” explored the limits of cutting-edge theoretical, numerical, and experimental techniques in elucidating the quantum properties of electrons in many exotic materials.

Graduating during the pandemic, she joined UCSB physics as academic personnel to help with emergency course transitions. She built, ran, and trained graduate students for online DIY experimental physics courses. She also wrote software that delivered free online manuals to students – in place of the expensive published versions – that is still in use by multiple science departments at UCSB.

Returning to research in hopes of helping to tackle some of the hardest problems in condensed matter physics, Kelly started working in the quantum computing industry in early 2022 as a quantum applications scientist before moving to her current role.

We talked with Kelly about her role at Atom Computing, about quantum computing applications, and how she got into this field.

Tell us about your role as a Quantum Applications Engineer at Atom Computing. What does this job involve? What projects are you working on?

Quantum Applications Engineers at Atom Computing have a broad focus, ranging from benchmarking and characterization of our neutral atom devices to error correction and mitigation, to algorithm and use-case development. I mainly work on the latter.

What does it mean to do algorithm and use-case development? At times, it means solving fun puzzles with three pieces: I have a quantum computer with these strengths and these weaknesses, I have knowledge of potential use-cases that are important, and I have a good understanding of what algorithms have been worked on and which have been fruitful. My job is to synthesize this information and push the right boundaries, producing unique ideas that take advantage of our very unique hardware to approach these meaningful use-cases. Luckily, Atom’s hardware has a lot of strengths, so this is usually pretty fun!

Other times, algorithm and use-case development means rolling up your sleeves and doing pages of math by hand or developing software – both things that I also really enjoy.  I find that my position has a great balance of technical activities, and I always have something to work on and people to talk to.

What am I currently working on? Currently I’m working on algorithms in optimization, quantum machine learning and quantum simulation. Some of these projects are with partners or research collaborations, which is incredibly fun – nothing beats the feeling of working on a problem with people who are deeply invested in the results.

There is a lot of discussion about “killer applications” for quantum computing? What do you think are the most promising near- and long-term applications for quantum computing?

I love this question, and I have a vision for the near term and why anyone should care – so bear with me. As background, I worked in a field of quantum physics (condensed matter physics) that absolutely relied on quantum experiments to make scientific progress. By experiments, I mean things like epithelial crystal growth or “high temperature direct reactions”, where labs had to fabricate tens or even hundreds of samples of quantum materials for each “clean sample” good enough for data collection – which, by the way, sometimes destroys the sample! Measurements are taken and compared with theoretical expectations, allowing us to fine-tune our understanding of what is going on quantum mechanically, as well as improve the fabrication process, hopefully moving towards desired properties.

Ultimately, this means that if we want to test how observation Y depends on parameter X in material Z, you must wait months for samples to be fabricated for each X you need data for, and hope that the results are conclusive. The experimental loop in many instances is very slow, pushing scientists to either propose theories without sufficient data – leading to research rabbit-holes – or to supplement their theories with computer simulations.

The problem with computer simulations of quantum physics is that, while they do help in some cases, they are very limited. And, currently, it’s not even a problem with computational speed that a GPU or HPC can help with: Storing the quantum state of just 52 atoms that only have a spin degree of freedom (up or down) requires over 500 Terabytes of RAM. Fifty-three atoms requires over a Petabyte, and each atom doubles the amount of RAM we need. And while there are classical methods for shaving that down significantly, such as “tensor network” approaches, these require unrealistic models, severely truncating the space of states or changing the material geometry. In addition to this, very few people on earth – maybe 15 – know how to build such a simulation and configure it to give reliable results for any problems of real interest.

On the flip side, to store a state of 52 atoms, it takes 52 qubits. For 53 atoms, it takes 53 qubits. And so forth.  And as gates get better, qubit counts get larger, and coherence times improve, we are going to see a shift in R&D practices starting at the academic level. We are already seeing it with the youngest generations of condensed matter and materials physics researchers – many have already embraced this technology, including some experimental labs. It is so much easier to generate, manipulate and collect quantum data on a quantum computer, and use that to improve theories and test hypotheses than it is to create a clean crystal and perform neutron scattering, or even build a reliable classical computer simulation. I think that quantum computing will find its first clear practical applications as an intermediate, highly accessible, step between computer simulations and experiments very soon, aiding in impactful research with a plethora of industry applications down the pipeline.

Speculating here, I think that quantum computers are on the cusp of providing research-grade quantum data. We’ve already seen low-control quantum simulators – as early as 2017 – find brand-new physics. I think that there will be many more surprises – new understandings of quantum correlations, and how deep corners of Hilbert Space conspire together to create unexpected phenomena. I think there will be a quantum engineering renaissance driven by ever improving quantum computing devices. I think we will have new ideas for materials, quantum devices, communication protocols, that will all be discovered using the quantum computing platforms we build in the next few years. I think that quantum computing has a real shot at being the foundational technology of new, old, and unimagined industries.

For the long-term, it is really hard to speculate on which industries will benefit from large, fault-tolerant quantum computers. Beyond the scientific uses I’ve already mentioned, I think there is a lot of excellent work on applications in optimization, machine learning and chemistry. Some recent papers have found evidence of fault-tolerant super-polynomial speed-ups in some of these areas. An obstacle for research, however, is that it is hard to study quantum algorithms without being able to run them on a large quantum computer. It’s akin to asking a computer scientist to formally work out how a neural net will behave on a training set with x, y, and z parameters, without letting them actually run the program. I think that once we have some quantum computers that are regularly demonstrating some general version of quantum advantage, we will have a lot more to say about the long-term use cases. I am optimistic!

Is there a particular quantum computing application you enjoy working on the most?

If you couldn’t tell by my previous responses already, I really love quantum simulation! Being so close to my PhD studies, I feel like this is the topic I can be the most creative with. Other than that, I’ve been enjoying working on optimization because of the intense industry interest. It’s always a pleasure to work with others who are laser-focused on solving specific sets of problems and helping them reach their goals.

Why did you join Atom Computing? What excites you most about working here?

I joined Atom because of the company’s scientific culture. The company is filled with scientists who understand the field at a deep technical level. A lot of them come from other quantum computing companies, too, bringing that experience with them. I also joined because it was very clear to me that Atom cares for its employees. I feel so welcome and valued here.

Working here is very dynamic, and you are always working on something new. The company also takes feedback seriously. Working here means that you have a voice in Aton’s direction, and it is very exciting to see your ideas incorporated into key decisions. It is so rare to have a company culture where individual scientists can make a company-wide impact.

How did you get into quantum computing? What do you enjoy most about this field?

My graduate school was a major player in quantum hardware, home to both StationQ and the Martinis Lab. There were also theory programs on the topic through StationQ and the KITP. Hilariously, I thought quantum computing was “boring” and never showed up to a single event or took a course. My opinion changed when Chris Monroe gave a talk demonstrating how an early prototype of an ion trap quantum computer could simulate some special physics models. It blew my mind, and by the end of my PhD, I decided that the way forward in quantum sciences would depend on various forms of quantum computing in the future.

I really enjoy the diversity of thought in this field, especially with more people migrating from more traditional branches of physics, chemistry, and computer science every day. Once you get past the cautious pessimism of many over-hyped applications, you can work creatively on problems. It’s a very exciting time and there is a lot to do.

What advice do you have for people who want to work in quantum computing?
I will limit my advice for people with interest in applications, since I haven’t worked on hardware.
 If you have a PhD or similar in a hard-science field: really start looking at applications that intersect with your specialty and start writing some simple algorithms using a high-level language like Qiskit. There are tons of tutorials and forums out there. If you have a specific topic of interest, like error correction, just start learning and writing code. You’ll learn a lot faster than you expect. Put a project or two on GitHub and apply to some jobs. Use the feedback you get to keep improving!

If you have a software background: quantum computing companies all need software engineers for control systems, full-stack web development, compilers, etc. Look around for some roles that fit your expertise and brush up on physics and linear algebra. When you work at a quantum company, you typically can cross collaborate with other teams, so you could certainly pick up some applications-layer skills.

If you are an undergraduate: Take your quantum classes seriously and do as many quantum internships as possible. If you can’t find a quantum internship, do a software internship. It’s possible to get a job out of undergraduate in quantum computing, though many students decide to continue their education into a master’s degree or PhD. If you decide to go this route, make sure you choose a school with a quantum engineering or quantum computing program that aligns with your interests. Not every graduate school has one!

And finally, for anyone else: what I love about this field is the nonlinear paths many of us have. Pursue what projects you have time for and jump into tutorials. Many people think the Qiskit tutorials are a great place to start. Go to meet-ups, join forums, and talk to people in the industry to get an idea of how to chart your own path!

Will Cairncross

Dr. Will Cairncross joined Atom Computing in 2021 as a senior quantum engineer and works in our Boulder, Colorado research and development facility where he is helping to build our next-generation atomic array quantum computers based on neutral atoms.

Will earned his doctorate in physics from the University of Colorado-Boulder and worked on various technical projects before moving into quantum computing.  We sat down with Will to talk about his role at Atom Computing, what a senior quantum engineer does, and how he got into this field.

Tell us about your role as a senior quantum engineer at Atom Computing. What does the job entail? What projects are you working on?

A senior quantum engineer is what you would call an “individual contributor” role. On a technical level, it is probably a lot like being an engineer in other areas of industry, or like being a postdoc in the sciences. I do a lot of solo and team work on design and development of our quantum computing machines. Specifically, in the past year and a half I’ve done some theoretical atomic physics calculations, designed a lot of high-numerical-aperture optical systems for trapping and manipulating neutral atoms with light, and written a fair amount of software for controlling optical devices -- for example Liquid Crystal Spatial Light Modulators or SLMs, which we use to shape light beams into arrays of optical tweezers for trapping atoms.

What is the most challenging part about building a next-generation quantum computer?

It’s both a joy and a challenge.  The most challenging aspects are the technical requirements of the machine itself. Quantum computers are amazingly complex machines, and from an engineering perspective, I feel lucky to get to work on them. It’s amazingly satisfying to be able to check big milestones off of our technical to-do list, and fortunately we’ve been able to do that a lot lately.

Why did you join Atom Computing? What excites you most about working here?

I joined Atom because I wanted to work in an environment of smart, hardworking, friendly people who feed off of each other's excitement and energy. Luckily for me, that really is true here at Atom. Every time I turn my head, it seems like someone on the engineering team has come up with a brilliant solution to a difficult problem. I also really get a kick out of building a machine that runs smoothly and performs well, which is not really the goal in my background in academic science.

There are a handful of companies developing atomic array quantum computing hardware systems.  What differentiates or separates Atom Computing’s hardware technology from others?

Well frankly, they are all a little bit secretive, so it’s      hard to say in any detail. Of course, it’s well known that most other companies are using alkali atoms such as Rubidium and Cesium. We’re using alkaline-earths, which provides us with a different and perhaps more diverse set of atomic physics tools to work with. We also have the amazing benefit of having incredibly talented in-house firmware engineers, who are designing and building an incredibly powerful and scalable control system. This really allows the physicists to focus on their main skill set and move the project forward quickly. I think both the scale and ambition of our effort is unmatched, however that might just be my competitiveness talking.

How did you get into quantum computing? What do you enjoy most about working in this field?

Initially, I was looking for the team environment and a challenging technical project. My previous technical experience didn’t include much quantum computing, but I consider myself a strong all-around physicist, so I wasn’t afraid of the challenge. As I gain more experience in this field, I’m really enjoying the fact that while there is a solid body of literature, there is still a lot left to be figured out when it comes to building a useful machine. It’s not the wild west but it’s also not cut-and-dried. There’s a lot of room for creativity!

What advice do you have for people who want to work as quantum engineers?
Just apply 🙂. There is so much work to be done and never enough hands to do it. And most of it is really cool.

Ming Li

Ming Li joined Atom Computing earlier this year as a Senior Neutral Atom Theorist to work on our atomic array quantum computing technology. 

Ming earned his doctorate degree in 2014 from the University of Toledo. He has worked in the field of quantum science for more than a decade, as a researcher, assistant research professor, and theorist for hardware technology companies.

We talked with Ming about his role at Atom Computing and how quantum theory contributes to the development of large-scale, fault-tolerant quantum computers.

Tell us about your role at Atom Computing. What does your job as senior neutral atom theorist involve?

As a theorist, I really have three main responsibilities. The first is to help characterize our prototype quantum computer, Phoenix, through the application of quantum theory as well as modeling and simulation.  The second is to really find better controls such as designing better pulse shapes, and better calibration routines to really bring out the best of our quantum hardware. These two things really go hand in hand and are focused on improving our existing system.  The third part is to help with the next generations of hardware and quantum computing designs and bring qualitative and eventually quantitative system engineering into the process.  When you start to design a quantum computer, you only have qualitative guesses on how it will perform but nothing concrete. But once you start iterating on those designs and making incremental improvements, you can incorporate existing knowledge to help determine what the next generation will look like.

What is the difference between what a quantum engineer does versus a quantum theorist?

Quantum engineers are usually in charge of building, operating, and maintaining a quantum computer. They have intimate knowledge of every piece that goes into a quantum computer. The role of a theorist is to help figure out how the quantum computer performs, how to improve it, and what to consider if we are to build a better one.  My challenge is to bring all the information we can gather from quantum engineers such as the physical system around a qubit, various noise sources, and system imperfections, then to distill and abstract them to a model that can be simulated to provide understanding to what we are seeing and how we can improve performance.  In industry, quantum engineers and quantum theorists need to work together seamlessly.  For theorists to thrive, we really need to connect with the quantum engineers to collaboratively discover which components of  the quantum computer are most responsible for its performance and how to improve them.

Why is quantum theory important to the development of large-scale quantum computers?

A quantum computer is a device that derives its power from the “quantumness” of the quantum system it tries to harness. Quantum theory tries to formalize our understanding of how that quantum system works - its properties, dynamics, etc. - and enables us to make predictions or generalizations. It helps to establish a quantitative link between things we can control and things we want to control in the quantum system.

When a system is smaller and performance requirements are lower, you can use relatively simple models to establish that link.  As the system gets bigger, it also becomes more complex as different parts of the system become more entangled together. Usually, at the same time, the performance requirements for gate operations and fidelities are also higher.  This means the link between what we can control and what we want to control becomes more complex and must be understood more accurately.  Theory becomes very important because we need better modeling and simulations to find a more effective and efficient way to establish that link.  

How are quantum computers advancing the field of quantum science?

The development of quantum computers poses a unique challenge to both engineering’s and physics’ understanding of specific systems.  At Atom Computing, for example, we are building atomic array quantum computers based on neutral atoms. We have chosen our quantum platform but that does not mean that in terms of physics we know everything about what we build.  As our quantum computer gets bigger, more complex and requires higher fidelities, we need to understand the quantum systems we build better and more quantitatively.  That naturally drives research into understanding these systems that could benefit the broader field of quantum science. 

Another aspect is that throughout the development of quantum computers many different technologies within the ecosystem also need to advance in order to better control these quantum systems.  These updated technologies will improve the tool box of researchers in quantum science to enable better experiments that could potentially unlock more mysteries in the field.

The third part is the promise of quantum computers to better simulate quantum systems such as complex many-body systems.  These systems in general are difficult to simulate and become even more so the more complex they are.  With classical computers, there is a pretty clear boundary as to where you can go. Beyond that, it becomes harder and harder – and sometimes nearly impossible – to simulate.  Because of that, quantum theories on these very complex systems are hard to develop. You can only simulate within that boundary and you try to distill as much knowledge from the simulation as you can for larger systems. The promise of using a quantum computer to better simulate these systems could open the door to gaining a better understanding of these complex systems and advance our knowledge of how the world works.

Why did you join Atom Computing? What excites you most about the company?

What excites me the most at Atom are the potentials and possibilities stemmed from working on neutral atomic array quantum computers. We only just started to chart the path toward scalable quantum computers using neutral atomic arrays. People have studied other modalities of quantum computing, especially ones based on superconducting qubits or trapped-ion qubits, for a fairly long time. There are already established schemes to make these quantum computers work in the NISQ era as well as known hurdles in terms of scalability.  Here, I think, we are just starting to see what we can do and to chart a path of where we want to go.  To me, that is really exciting.

How did you get into quantum computing? What do you enjoy most about the field?

Like many people who have come to this industry with a physics background, I was lured by the excitement and promise of quantum computers being the ultimate machine to help expand our horizons in a variety of fields in science through quantum simulation. My background before coming to the QC industry is in the more traditional field of quantum theory where I have experienced the limitations of classical simulation first hand. It was often frustrating when we couldn’t advance our understanding of a complex physical system because a simulation is intractable even when we have pulled every trick we had to simplify our model. I hope ultimately through our work at Atom we will be able to push on these boundaries. 

Apart from having a strong long-term motivation for working in the field of QC, I also enjoy working closely with many other talented people from vastly different backgrounds. For instance, I get to work with experimentalists very closely and I get to learn a lot from them from many stimulating discussions.  Also to have them being able to test and verify my theoretical predictions is very rewarding. Another aspect I enjoy about the field of QC stems from the fact that it is such a nascent field especially for neutral atom arrays based QC systems. As I mentioned earlier in why I joined Atom, it is very exciting to be one of the first to chart the path to building a useful quantum computer.

What advice do you have for people who want to work in quantum computing?

To build a scalable fault tolerant quantum computer, we need all the talents we can get because I think it is among the most ambitious scientific and engineering quests in human history. Since the number of people with a QC background is still very limited and QC-focused education programs are just starting to take form, we need to really find ways to attract and utilize talents from different backgrounds.  I would encourage anyone interested in quantum computing with a STEM background to talk with someone in the QC industry to see how to get involved. And I think the key, similar to how one would break into many technical fields, is to understand the different technical roles that exist in the QC ecosystem and how they contribute to overall progress in quantum. From there, one could then figure out what preparation is needed given their background. In this sense, I hope some of the questions I answered earlier could be useful for people who are interested in the quantum theorist role here at Atom.

Kristen Pudenz

Kristen Pudenz joined Atom Computing in 2022 as Director of Advanced Research Programs.  Before that, she worked at Lockheed Martin for seven years, first as a quantum applications engineer, then as Corporate Lead for Quantum.

Kristen earned her doctoral degree in electrical engineering from the University of California-Los Angeles in 2014. Her dissertation focused on Error Correction and Applications for Quantum Annealing.

We sat down with Kristen to talk to her about her role, why she joined Atom Computing, how she got into quantum computing, and the near- and long-term applications for this disruptive technology.

First off, tell us about your role at Atom Computing. What does your job as Director of Advanced Research Programs entail?

I focus primarily on external collaborative research, working together with universities, government, and other companies to advance shared scientific goals. These research projects are complementary to the main processor development track and advance the technical objectives of the company. This includes anything from novel ways to use atomic array quantum computing to custom-designed hardware components that enable us to realize advanced physics and enhance our processor performance.

Why did you decide to join Atom Computing? What excites you most about the company?

I joined Atom Computing because I think the technology is sound, the scaling path is the most promising I’ve seen, and the team is excellent. The combination of long coherence times with highly controllable two-qubit gates and the flexibility of dragging and dropping identical atoms into a qubit array to form a processor make the engineering picture very attractive.

What differentiates Atom Computing’s quantum hardware technology? What are the benefits of Atom’s atomic array quantum technology based on neutral atoms?

Atom Computing uses the atom’s nuclear spin as our qubit. These energy levels are well isolated from the environment, particularly electromagnetic noise, and offer extremely long coherence times whose limits we haven’t even begun to touch. Coherence sets the stage for everything else that happens with the quantum computer. It allows room for gates to operate and enables future error correction by creating a processor that can hold quantum information in clean areas while it repairs itself in areas affected by noise. Combined with the natural scalability of atomic array qubit trapping, this shows a platform with plenty of room to grow.

How did you get into quantum computing? What do you enjoy most about the field?

I’m always attracted to first principles and mapping out technical landscapes, and I became interested in quantum computing because I saw the limits coming for classical computers with the end of Moore’s law. As a graduate student, I was able to use the very first commercial quantum processor ever sold, which I regarded from an engineer’s perspective. It was small, and too noisy to implement most of the beautiful quantum error correction schemes theorists were producing. So I stripped down an error correcting code to its simplest components and modified it to fit the tool I had available – and it worked! What I enjoy most is bringing solutions from the lab to the real world and using them to solve a problem we couldn’t before.

There is a lot of discussion about “killer applications” for quantum computing? What do you think are the most promising near- and long-term applications for quantum computing?

We have some very interesting NISQ (Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum) algorithms available right now for optimization, machine learning, and chemistry. As we move to larger quantum processors with partial error correction, results from these algorithms should improve to a point where we’ll be able to use a quantum computer to extend the reach of a classical computer by solving key problems. In the long term, the best proven speedups for quantum computers are in factoring (which is why we need new encryption algorithms) and search. These are just the mathematically proven speedups, though. Just as most classical computing algorithms we use today aren’t provably optimal, there are likely many use cases for large quantum computers that will offer speedups we can’t mathematically predict at this stage. It’s going to be an exciting journey!

Quantum computers are an early-stage technology.  Should companies or organizations be exploring quantum computing now? If so, why?  How do you recommend they get started?

Yes, it’s a good idea for companies to explore quantum computing now – my previous job was helping a large company do exactly that. The two main reasons to do so are to gain expertise and to contribute to the co-design feedback loop. Quantum computing is a transformational technology that will change what we regard as easy to do with computers. It’s important for companies to understand what this means for their industry so they can take full advantage of the new technology instead of being scooped by other firms who kept up. By engaging early, companies can also interact directly with quantum computer manufacturers like Atom Computing and influence the design choices that are shaping the large-scale processors under development, making them better suited to the use case that matters most to your company.

Finally, what advice do you have for people who want to work in quantum computing?

Get programming or get into a physics lab! We need brilliant, dedicated people working at all layers of the quantum stack, whether that’s device physicists giving us the tools to control individual atoms, controls engineers bringing the system to life, error correction and compiler developers making the processor more performant, or applications programmers connecting quantum computers to their problem of choice. There are so many opportunities to get engaged, such as workshops, certificates, degrees, and professional experience. It’s cutting edge and fascinating, and we’d love you to join us!

Miro Urbanek

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!

Katy Barnes

We sat down with Katy Barnes to talk about her career path to quantum and why she enjoys working in this field and at Atom Computing on the Control Systems Engineering team.

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

Katy: Honestly, I didn't really set out to work in quantum computing. The biggest draw for me to Engineering, in general, was that the field is always changing and I'd be forever learning. My dream was that I would have the opportunity to be part of a team that was working on world-changing, cutting-edge technology, and quantum computing is the epitome of both. I count myself fortunate to be a part of Atom Computing and I'm very excited to see what we can create together!

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

Katy: The Physics behind quantum computing is fascinating; so is pondering the ways it will transform any industry it touches. Before joining Atom Computing, I envisioned Quantum Physics as this weird science that challenged the Physics principles we are comfortable with. Many of us have heard of Schrödinger's cat, but truly wrapping your mind around the idea of uncertainty and how it can be used as a computing tool is incredibly difficult. It’s not something I studied in depth in school (and I still think it’s weird), but the more I learn about how it works, the more enthralled I am.

Thinking about how classical computing changed over the years makes me very excited to see how the quantum computing industry will grow and change.  

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?

Katy: I believe that quantum computing has the potential to transform almost everything in this world. I am most excited about how it could change the healthcare industry. I cannot even fathom what new treatments or cures could be created to battle the sickness and disease that plague today’s society. I’m sure there are many ways we haven’t even thought of that quantum computing could help to diagnose and treat various medical issues. 

Tell us why you chose to work at Atom Computing?

Katy: One of the major things that drove me to work for Atom Computing, in particular, is that “humble” was one of the requirements in the job description. That one word says to me that not only will I be working with brilliant people on very cool, very cutting edge technology, but I will be working with a team that doesn’t let egos get in the way of progress—that we all will have the same goal.  And now that I have worked with the team, I know that it’s true!

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

Katy: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t understand something, keep asking questions until you do understand. In the STEM field, each new topic tends to build on something else you’ve learned, so it’s easy to get lost. Make sure you don’t just memorize, but understand the why and how—it makes it easier to apply the concepts to real-world problems. It can be intimidating to be in a room full of smart people who all seem to get it, but I can guarantee that there are several people in the room that would be happy that you asked that question. Never stop learning!

Robin Coxe

We sat down with Robin Coxe to talk about her career path to quantum and professional advice for getting started in this field, as we celebrate her promotion to Vice President of the Control Systems Engineering team.

Tell us why you decided to join Atom Computing?

Robin: I jumped at the chance to be an early employee at a startup where I could lead a team designing state-of-the-art electronic systems, help build a company, and play a part in the next revolution of computing. My job at Atom Computing makes my somewhat unconventional career path make sense.  When I started grad school in elementary particle physics, I was under the impression that I was going to be a professor. As I was finishing my PhD, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, where the Higgs Boson was eventually discovered in 2012) was delayed by a few years, so I averted a decade-long postdoc and made the leap to industry. My first role after graduating was as a systems engineer on an imaging satellite program at an aerospace giant. I went on to spend 15 years as a digital logic designer, primarily focused on wireless telecom. Prior to joining Atom Computing, I was the R&D manager for the Ettus Research software-defined radio product line at National Instruments. At NI, I gained valuable experience leading a multidisciplinary technical team and shepherding hardware designs from conception to mass production. The key elements of the control systems for Atom’s quantum computers that interact with laser systems that cool, trap, and manipulate atomic qubits and read out quantum states happen to be technologies that I’ve spent years working on with: software-defined radios, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), and image processors. We are always on the lookout for talented software, FPGA, and hardware engineers with experience in these areas.

Did you have any reservations about getting into quantum computing, even though it was a relatively new technology and market?

Robin: Not really, to be honest. It was an easy decision to join Atom Computing.  I didn’t even know enough to be dangerous about atomic physics or quantum information when I started. I was very upfront about my lack of expertise in these domains during the interview process. Fortuitously, I appeared on the scene at just the right time when Atom Computing was looking for someone with expertise in FPGA and hardware design, software-defined radio, and technical leadership.  I have a long history of learning on the job and my colleagues have made figuring things out on the fly very easy. The team members at Atom Computing are not only extremely smart and capable but also genuinely nice, humble, and willing to share their knowledge. Having a Ph.D. in physics is not a prerequisite to join the Control Systems or Software teams here. We are the Non-Quantum Engineers of Atom Computing– hurrah! 

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

Robin: I avoided atomic physics in college and graduate school because at the time it seemed boring. Working at Atom Computing, I have come to appreciate that we are the beneficiaries of experimental techniques using lasers to cool, trap, and manipulate large arrays of alkaline earth atoms that are astonishingly clever and deserving of the Nobel Prizes that were awarded to the physicists who created them. I still find calculating Clebsch-Gordan coefficients very unexciting, but fortunately, that is not my job.

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?

Robin: In recent years, computing industry pundits have been predicting the imminent demise of Moore’s Law as transistor sizes approach limits where quantum mechanical effects can no longer be ignored. I am of the opinion that any self-respecting Bay Area tech person should be wildly excited by the promise of quantum computing to target classes of problems that cannot be solved in tractable timeframes on classical computers. Quantum Moore’s Law? Yes, please!

Using quantum computers for high-energy physics simulations appeals to me because as a former particle physicist, I would like to see that sub-field of physics continue to pursue the reductionist ideal for many years to come. Practically speaking, developing quantum algorithms to solve gnarly optimization problems (i.e., “what is the most efficient way to do X?”) would be amazing – the entirety of humanity could benefit from wasting less time.

What is one piece of advice you’d offer someone considering getting into this field?

Robin: The ability to write concisely and clearly and to give coherent, compelling presentations are often overlooked superpowers in STEM jobs. Another important skill is the ability to debug things when they break by thinking both broadly and deeply, adhering to the scientific method, writing everything down, and only changing one thing at a time.

Toni Jones

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.