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.