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No PhD required: What the Riverlane Graduate Scheme is really like

No PhD required: What the Riverlane Graduate Scheme is really like
Diana Ford
17 November, 2023

Riverlane needs a broad range of talent to build the Quantum Error Correction Stack that every quantum computer will need. One of the ways we nurture this talent is through our early career schemes (internship and graduate schemes).  

In this blog post, I wanted to highlight a scheme close to my heart, our graduate scheme. I was fortunate enough to start my own career in HR at Arm, one of Cambridge’s tech success stories. I found the graduate scheme a great way to learn and grow, whilst being able to have a real impact in the business. I eventually became responsible for Arm’s graduate programme, and it was incredibly rewarding to see graduates grow and progress their careers. Many graduates progressed into senior technical and management roles and some even went on to start their own companies. 

Graduates at Riverlane are given responsibility from day one and have the ability to make a real impact. We deeply value the knowledge and perspectives our Graduates bring to Riverlane. Let's talk to two of our recent Graduate Engineers: Zalan Nemeth and Jack Turner.  

Q: Tell me about yourself 

Jack: I studied MSc Physics at the University of Bristol, where I also completed a Year in Industry as an Experimental Mechanics Test Engineer at Airbus. During this placement, I got to work on huge, multinational projects including cutting-edge test campaigns for prototype aircraft wings. I enjoyed this experience very much but was also keen to return to my physics degree when the placement ended.  

During my final university year, I was introduced to the theory of quantum computing and information processing. I found it extremely interesting - but I knew nothing about the ecosystem or opportunities in the field. Once I graduated, I began to do some research, and that is when I found Riverlane! 

Zalan: My name is Zalan Nemeth, I'm originally from Hungary but I've lived in Scotland for the past seven years before I started working at Riverlane. I received my bachelor's degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland.  

After completing my undergraduate studies, I did a three-month internship at the university and then I joined the building industry as an electrical engineer for a year, after which I joined Riverlane. 

Q: Why did you apply for the Riverlane Graduate Scheme? 

Zalan: I had been following quantum computing for some time, but I perceived the field as too complex to delve into without extensive training. Most job postings demanded a PhD, which I didn't plan on pursuing, or more than five years of experience. That's when I stumbled upon the Riverlane Graduate Scheme. 

Barring a university course in quantum mechanics, I had little experience in quantum computing and was initially hesitant to apply. However, the opportunity was open to those without prior experience in the field – and a former Riverlane intern had nothing but praise for the company.  

These factors and the fact that the Riverlane Graduate Scheme offered involvement in a variety of quantum computing projects, spanning both engineering and research, prompted me to submit my application. 

Jack: After my final university year, I wanted to work at a quantum computing company. However, I found that the majority of companies were looking for applicants either with PhDs or in the process of completing their PhDs. The Riverlane Graduate Scheme did not have this requirement, and so was the perfect entry point into an extremely technical industry.  

The application process was challenging but the recruitment team was friendly and supportive. They organised talks from scientists and engineers for us during the assessment day. I was thrilled when I was offered a position as a Graduate Engineer!  

Since joining Riverlane, I have found it provides the perfect balance - combining the exciting energy of a mission-driven start-up with the deep technical expertise of academia. It has been a steep learning curve, but I have felt supported by a great team every step of the way and quickly felt like I was making a useful contribution. 

Q: What is your highlight from the Riverlane Graduate Scheme? 

Jack: The opportunity to rotate through the three key functions of Riverlane's business.  

I first worked with the Deltaflow.Control team developing cutting-edge hardware for controlling the qubits in a quantum computer. I specifically worked on the module responsible for compiling user experiments and the machine code executed on hardware. These control systems are now in use in world-leading labs conducting the research that is driving the quantum computing field forward. It is extremely satisfying to know that I contributed to this (albeit in a small way!). 

In the decoder stream, the team is developing quantum error correction tools to spot qubit errors quickly and accurately to support the next generation of bigger and more powerful quantum computers. This is a monumental technical challenge where Riverlane is leading the pack, and it was fantastic learning about this new topic and contributing to its development by implementing a decoder from the literature.  

Since starting at Riverlane, I always get asked: "what will quantum computers be used for?". My final rotation in the Discover team has focussed on just that: how can we run useful algorithms on quantum computers in the near term that display a benefit over classical computing?  

I've been investigating an algorithm called quantum phase estimation, which has been widely studied for its benefit in chemistry and solid-state applications. This has been my most "physics-y" project, and I have often found myself looking back over old notes from university! Conducting original research in such a specialised field has certainly been a highlight of the Graduate Scheme, and I am excited to see what new results we can get using our improved algorithm. 

Zal: I've also had the opportunity to join each of the technical streams that make up Riverlane. These projects have involved working on the software and hardware engineering as well as projects focusing on more research-oriented work.  

Each project came with its unique challenges and taught me different things. I learned how to write high-quality professional code, learned about the steps involved in classical chip design and contributed towards the development of Riverlane’s control systems and quantum decoders.  

I also had the chance to explore more of the theoretical sides of quantum computing such as quantum error correction and quantum algorithms.  

I accomplished all these tasks while also having the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution that significantly benefited the company. Knowing that my work is currently being used is very fulfilling. 

Q: How do you think this experience has benefitted you? 

Zal: My technical knowledge increased a huge amount in my 10+ months at Riverlane. Quantum computing, arguably one of the most interdisciplinary fields that's out there, offers limitless learning opportunities if you are eager to learn. Simply being part of the team provides continuous exposure to a plethora of new concepts, insights and chance to develop new skills. 

I also want to mention that I wouldn't have had such a great time here without the people who make up the Riverlane team. They are all brilliant, approachable and down to earth so it has been a pleasure to work amongst them. 

I think it's also worth mentioning that besides the technical and personal parts, one of the unexpected things I got out this scheme is the level of understanding of the industry. 

Jack: I agree that the knowledge I have gained of the quantum ecosystem - its key players, different hardware platforms, funding sources - will be also invaluable as I move forward in my career. 

Sometimes though it feels like I'm still in academia (in a good way) where I'm learning the same amount of physics but within an industrial setting – it's a great balance. Also, Riverlane is run with a high level of transparency and gaining exposure into how a deep tech start-up is run and the exec team has also been invaluable. 

I think you would be hard-pressed to find a graduate position in which you learn so much and that exposes you to so many key facets of the industry. I have noticed a massive difference in both my understanding of quantum computing, as well as in practical skills such as programming and conducting research.  

Q: What would you say to others thinking of applying? 

Jack: It is an unbelievably exciting time to join the quantum computing field, with governments announcing new funding all the time. The technology is evolving rapidly, and there is always a buzz in the office when some new research has been published! 

In terms of practical steps I would recommend for prospective applicants, I would say that while a deep understanding of quantum mechanics isn't a necessity, an interest in quantum computing certainly is. Most likely, if you are reading this blog post, you have that covered!  

The other thing I would recommend is to ensure you have some decent coding experience. You really don’t need to be a programming whizz, but a working knowledge of languages like Python will go a very long way. There are good resources online for practicing for coding assessments which are worth looking at. 

The final thing I would say is: best of luck! 

Zal: I agree with the points that Jack made. Most importantly, you do not need any specific quantum computing knowledge to succeed on the scheme – but enthusiasm is a must. Just do it! 

Interested in joining one of Riverlane’s Intern or Graduate Programmes? You can find out more about our student and graduate opportunities internships and working at Riverlane here. 

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