Why you should consider a career in quantum computing

As part of our mission to transform quantum computers from experimental technology into commercial products at Riverlane, we need talented individuals to join our world-class team. In the past 18 months, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing over 150 candidates for a range of different roles. Many of our candidates had not previously considered a career in quantum computing and I often get asked the same types of questions. In a bid to debunk a few myths and show just how exciting a career in quantum computing can be, I’ve summarised my answers here.

Do I have to have a background in quantum to join a quantum computing company?

In short, no! Many activities in quantum computing involve skills and practices from a wide range of domains.

We have two technical teams at Riverlane – an engineering team and a quantum science team – and they work closely together to solve challenging problems across architectures, algorithms, processes and products. As pioneers in a nascent technology, we have the freedom to apply state-of-the-art approaches from other technical areas and we evolve these to help us achieve our vision.

The engineering team includes software developers, FPGA design engineers, embedded engineers and product managers. They are experts in areas such as hardware / software integration, programming language theory and algorithm design. Most of the people filling these roles had no background in quantum before they joined Riverlane. For example, Jan Snoeijs (FPGA Designer) completed an MSc in Electronic Engineering, while Kenton Barnes (Quantum Engineer) came to us with an MSc in Computer Science. They were attracted to the many unexplored problems associated with working in such a novel industry and the collaborative environment in which these problems are solved. There are opportunities for all types of engineers to join the team and we give full training to new employees to get them up to speed in quantum.

Even in the quantum science team, many individuals had no direct exposure to quantum information before they joined the company. Ophelia Crawford (Quantum Scientist) arrived at Riverlane with a PhD in geophysics while Dan Underwood (Quantum Scientist) had a PhD in computational physics/chemistry and work experience in software engineering.

The opportunities do not stop with technical roles. We also have four supporting functions at Riverlane – operations, marketing, product and business development – and we’ll be looking for talented individuals to join these teams in 2021.

How risky is it to join a quantum computing company?

We know that many of our candidates prefer stability over uncertainty, particularly given the year we’ve just been through. So, it might seem risky to join an industry where most companies are pre-revenue and there is a considerable amount of hype. The good news is that quantum computing is in a healthy financial position right now. The high-risk, high-reward nature of this deep tech market presents an exciting investment opportunity and has begun to attract significant venture capital funding in the last few years. A less well-known source of funding comes from national governments. Since 2014, the UK government has invested over a billion pounds in quantum innovation through its National Quantum Technologies Programme. Other governments, including the US, France and Germany, have similar programmes, all of which aim to support companies to transform quantum computers from experimental technology into commercial products.

When you’re interviewing at a quantum computing start-up, don’t be afraid to ask: ‘how long is your runway?’ This is start-up speak for ‘how long is it until you run out of money?’ The answer may be less than 18 months – this is pretty normal for most start-ups. Good companies will have investors who understand that quantum is a long-term bet and have a clear plan for their next stage of growth.

That is why it’s even more important to look at the team and product strategy. An amazing team with great ideas is very likely to win revenue and attract investment.

Needless to say, our investors and our team believe that Riverlane is very well positioned for success!

How big is the quantum computing industry going to be?

Rather large! A report by Boston Consulting Group estimates that the quantum computing industry could be worth $450 billion annually when we reach full-scale fault tolerance. Today quantum computing is transforming from a $1bn industry to a $10bn industry as governments and large corporations realise the huge strategic value of the technology.

Riverlane has already firmly established itself in the quantum ecosystem. We’ve recently raised a £15M Series A round from leading investors and we hold a number of government grants. For example, Riverlane is leading a flagship consortium which has a £7.6M grant from the government’s Industrial Challenge Strategy Fund to deploy our highly innovative quantum operating system, Deltaflow. All of the UK ‘s most exciting quantum hardware companies are part of the consortium, including SeeQCHitachi EuropeUniversal Quantum, Duality Quantum Photonics, Oxford Ionics, and Oxford Quantum Circuits, along with UK-based chip designer, Arm, and the National Physical Laboratory. We also have established partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and the battery industry. In our collaboration with drug discovery company Astex, for example, we are working together to study the properties of covalent drugs and demonstrate the future potential of quantum chemistry.

Take-home message

This is a great time to join the quantum computing industry. There is a huge amount of funding available, there are varied and interesting jobs, and you’ll get the chance to dramatically accelerate your career in a vibrant and expanding ecosystem. Come and see for yourself! Check out Riverlane’s vacancies here.