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Q-CTRL’s Alex Shih on quantum’s productization challenges

By Dan O'Shea posted 05 Sep 2022

Q-CTRL last month named Alex Shih, formerly of Slack, Twitter, Google, Airbnb, Planet Labs, and other firms, to lead product management for the company. Having been with so many big-name Internet and social media firms, IQT News wondered: Why quantum? Why now? And Why Q-CTRL? So, we asked Shih by email and he answered. The following is an edited portion of that email exchange.

IQT: Do you feel quantum technology is at a stage similar to that of social media when you were at Twitter or enterprise collaboration when you were at Slack?

ALEX SHIH: We’re at the early stages of a new technology, and eventual products, that will become pervasive in everyday computing. Social and collaboration platforms didn’t really take off until mobile handsets and connectivity became ubiquitous. Quantum technology is at a similar stage in that the hardware is emerging, new algorithms are being developed. While we believe quantum technology is an inevitability, we’re applying our expertise in quantum control to bring quantum advantage forward by years. We’re paving the way to be the firmware layer for quantum computing in the same way that DOS and Windows were ready at key inflection points to dominate the OS battle (at the time), and VMware was there at the right time to pioneer cloud infrastructure for cloud computing.

IQT: What are the biggest productization challenges for Q-CTRL and the quantum sector in general?  

AS: We already have a growing product portfolio at Q-CTRL (Black Opal, Boulder Opal, and Fire Opal, which is coming soon) with growing revenue across each product line. But it takes an ecosystem – partnerships, addressing customer needs, and continued polish  – to expand the market. Challenges include:

  • Awareness: Educating the market and customers to quickly and easily understand and experience the benefits of quantum computing in their unique workflows (e.g. productivity gains, cost savings, speed of delivery), while abstracting the complexities so they don’t need to understand the core science.
  • Adoption: Identifying recurring use cases (vs. one-off demonstrations). Ensuring that customers incorporate quantum technology into existing workflows or adopting entirely new applications because of the groundbreaking benefits. 
  • Access: H/W and cloud quantum computing vendors, platform, and software ecosystem readiness.

IQT: Where do you think you can have an effect on Q-CTRL’s current product , and do you already see opportunities to develop new products? 

AS: We already have an amazing high-performing, tight knit product team, and I’m excited to continue growing the team as we scale as a business to meet market demand. For such a revolutionary technology, we’re often inundated by a flood of interest, opportunities, and potential use cases. One of the biggest challenges will be to remain focused on our core mission and capabilities, execute well, and continuously validate and iterate with customers. I intend to augment Q-CTRL’s existing product capabilities and practices with my experiences and lessons learned from rapid prototyping to identify product-market fit, building and scaling products to global markets, instrument signals and processes where we can identify patterns and trends, and bringing increased focus on outcomes and customer ROI. We have ideas and early stage explorations for new product opportunities that build upon our core strengths, and strengthening our product discipline and processes will help us validate these opportunities.

IQT: Q-CTRL recently launched a quantum sensing division. Will your approach to productization and product management be similar or different to your approach to other types of products? 

AS: We’re fortunate to have a sensing team with global expertise that has been rapidly assembled from around the world. With deep research experience under their belts, they’re pioneering innovative ways to measure gravity, motion, and magnetic fields that will have real-world impact on a variety of industries. We approach productization of our quantum sensing capabilities in the same way we are with our quantum control capabilities: building delightfully easy-to-use, “software defined” interfaces to access our sensor data to deliver value to our customers, grounded in market demand and the requirements of our growing roster of customers.

Dan O’Shea has covered telecommunications and related topics including semiconductors, sensors, retail systems, digital payments and quantum computing/technology for over 25 years.

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