By Dan O'Shea posted 10 Nov 2021

The quantum skills shortage has been a topic of recurring discussion and concern throughout the quantum computing sector in recent months, and again surfaced during last week’s IQT Fall event as several speakers mentioned the need for more education resources to encourage more people to join the field.

During a panel featuring quantum software CEOs Michael J. Biercuk, CEO and founder of firmware company Q-CTRL, and other CEOs talked about how software engineers with little or no background in quantum computing but who are motivated to train and learn more are welcome and needed at their firms.

This comes after IQT News suggested five ways to combat the skills, including the need for more training programs. 

Now, Q-CTRL is giving those engineers and a wide variety of other interested individuals a new training tool with the release of its Black Opal interactive online learning platform. 

The company described the platform as being aimed at not just software pros, but anyone 16 years old and older–STEM students, quantum-adjacent engineers, other tech professionals, C-level business leaders and even just eager self-learners–who is interested in learning basic quantum computing skills.

In a craft marketing move, Q-CTRL is holding a Black Friday sale for Black Opal, saying that a one-year subscription to Black Opal, which it values at $180, will be available for just $50 from Nov. 19-29. The special deal also includes a bonus of four extra months of access.

Biercuk participated in an email Q&A with IQT News to explain more about the Black Friday offer and his company’s motivation for creating Black Opal.

IQT News: How did you come up with the idea for a Black Friday sale? and what’s the target group for Black Opal?

Biercuk: Black Opal is our signature edtech tool for quantum computing. With our public launch coming up early next year, we saw an opportunity to supplement our traditional go-to-market approach that involves in-person events by introducing a digital-first promotion with our first ever Black Friday sale. Kevin Chee, our Head of Product, was the brains behind the idea.

IQT News: What’s the target group for Black Opal?

Biercuk: Black Opal is made for anyone interested to learn quantum computing. Our private beta saw a variety of users begin their quantum journey with success – from enthusiastic high school students to engineers. Through its interactive, visual and accessible interface and learning modules, Black Opal can take any user from zero knowledge to programming real quantum computers in minutes a day.

Black Opal is the perfect solution for anyone seeking a more rigorous and engaging educational experience as it enables users to focus on the areas in which they have the most interest. We feel this is a much more engaging way to learn than to passively consume video tutorials, and it is a more accessible and flexible option than committing to a university course.

We have a dual mission to help newcomers enter the field, and to make every C-Suite executive quantum conversant. Black Opal removes all barriers to understanding how quantum computing can change the world and gives a competitive edge to individuals and organizations.

IQT News: Are enough people aware of quantum computing for this kind of offer, or is that why you are doing it–to build awareness in the general population?

Biercuk: We’re stunned by the level of interest in learning quantum computing from students and professionals in peripherally related fields like software engineering.  Throughout Q-CTRL’s life cycle, we’ve been pleasantly overwhelmed with non-technical users asking us to help them get started on their quantum journey, so we decided to build a tool especially for them.

In parallel, the NSF has started its Q-12 program for early education in quantum technology and Black Opal is a perfect complement to this.

Ultimately, we want to show everyone – whether they’re excited students in high school or professional engineers – that they can learn quantum computing if they have the right tools available to them, and from that vision Black Opal was born.

IQT News: Everyone is talking about the quantum skills shortage–is this one way to get non-PhDs and others to try it and maybe send them one a path to more advanced training and education?

Biercuk: In our market engagement, we’ve discovered a sizable class of “curious technologists” who are either undergraduate students in non-quantum fields, or professionals in peripheral disciplines like software engineering. They are motivated and have skills that are highly relevant to the quantum industry, but they’ve never had educational tools that worked for them. Black Opal helps to fill this gap by equipping users with the knowledge and skills necessary to make them conversant in the fundamentals of quantum computing, empowering them to contribute their expertise with meaningful impact, or continue on to more formal education opportunities.

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