Classiq: Quantum talent shortage persists, but software help is on the way

By Dan O'Shea posted 05 Jan 2022

The challenges of the old year don’t disappear when the new year begins, and so as 2022 dawns the quantum sector still finds itself dealing with a talent shortage. It’s a challenge that in some ways reminiscent of other eras in which demand for workers skilled in emerging technology areas out-stripped what the workforce could supply.

It reminds Yuval Boger, CMO of software firm Classiq of the period two decades ago when CEOs in various industries were being told “if you’re not on the web, then you’re not going to exist in five years.” But he also noted in a recent interview with IQT News that some industries faced a similar challenge even more recently with the rise of virtual reality and with the evolution of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“Virtual reality was around for years and you suddenly got to a point where the hardware could do a lot more and it changed everything,” he said. “AI and ML were in the background for so many years, and all of a sudden companies started to see what they could do with machine learning. Now we see something similar with quantum. We see a lot of companies wanting to dip their toe in the water.”

He added, “A growing number of enterprises have decided that quantum might be strategic for their future. They all read the reports about how quantum is the kryptonite to breaking financial services security or how quantum could optimize the supply chain and allow you to save money on your fuel bills, or simulate new molecules better to help you create vaccines faster.”

Even if dipping a toe into quantum amounts to hiring a very small team of a few people to investigate and work with the technology the talent has to come from somewhere, and as of yet it has been hard to find. Boger quoted a McKinsey & Co. report which suggested there could be a demand for as many as 10,000 quantum-skilled workers by 2025, but a supply of under 5,000.

“So, essentially one out of two jobs is going to remain open,” he said. A rising number of training programs and schools, like the University of Chicago, establishing quantum PhD programs mean more help is on the way, but the sector to could be in for a few more years in which growing quantum firms will have to resort to stealing talent from their competitors or finding other ways to stretch their quantum resources and time-to-market expectations.

However, software can help by providing short-staffed teams with better quantum building blocks. “Where software comes in is that today is that to write quantum code you have to understand the underlying engine you are dealing with, so when you try to write code that simulates a molecule you have to understand both chemistry and quantum physics,” Boger said. “If you think quantum engineers are hard to find, then try to find those people who understand both areas. They’re like unicorns, they don’t exist.”

To go back to the earlier Web analogy, it was very difficult in the early years to design websites, but eventually software packages made it easier for people who didn’t know design and programming languages to have access to a push-button approach to getting those projects done.

“With quantum software, we’re taking care of the engine underneath to translate into something that actually works for people working in different disciplines,” Boger said. “More universities are going to train people, and that will help companies get more knowledgeable people, but also the platforms and the tools are going to be better so you don’t have to know everything about quantum.”

In the next few years, he added, general purpose quantum software engines will continue to evolve to handle common tasks, but at the same time companies like Classiq increasingly will work with industry experts in fields like chemistry and finance, collaborating with them to create sector-specific software libraries and capabilities.

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