Woman in a quantum physics lab holding a sheet of transparent plastic with markings on it called a spectroscopy picture to the light so she can examine it.
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What skills do you need to start a career in quantum?

30 Jun 2023

Quantum combines quantum mechanics with physics, maths and computer science to innovate and solve problems. It’s an exciting area to break into.

Quantum tech is perhaps not as well-known as other areas of tech, but there is no doubt that its influence is growing – and that means it is a good area to look into if you’re an ambitious person with an aptitude for computers and maths.

Lots of Big Tech companies are betting on quantum as a driver of innovation for the future. Currently, much of the quantum knowledge is evolving in the academic world, but businesses are beginning to sit up and take notice of the tech’s potential thanks to industry-academia collaborations.

In Ireland, Trinity College Dublin has recently formed an alliance for quantum computing skills with industry players IBM and Microsoft. Smaller companies have joined the alliance, too, including Horizon Quantum Computing, a Singapore-based quantum tech company headed up by Irishman Dr Joe Fitzsimons. He spoke to SiliconRepublic.com last year when his company expanded into Ireland, announcing several new jobs for Dublin.

So, what kind of skills do you need if you want to break into quantum computing and how difficult is it to establish a career in the sector?

To answer the second question first, you will most likely need a university qualification – possibly to postgraduate level. Quantum is complex and even academics who work on advancing research in the field are sometimes stymied by problems in the field.

That said, Irish universities’ determination to make quantum skills accessible for everyone means there are a lot of postgraduate programmes that have been developed in consultation with the likes of IBM.

If you’re looking to brush up on your skills casually, Google has made its Quantum Virtual Machine available to the public free of charge so everyone can learn quantum programming skills. There is also the option of online courses, available from the likes of Skillnet Ireland, as well as Udemy and edX.

Technical, mathematical and soft skills

Maths is definitely a skill you need for quantum. Specifically, linear algebra, probability theory and statistics. Computer science skills such as algorithms, programming and data structuring are required in combination also.

It goes without saying that you need to know the quantum lingo, too. This means a decent grasp of quantum theory and mechanics. Keep up with developments that are happening in quantum science and know how the industry is using the tech for different purposes. Specialist publications like Quantum Zeitgeist are good for this. If you are able to talk the talk with quantum, you can explain to businesses how they can benefit from the tech but you have to understand it first, so know your stuff – and your qubits.

Because quantum is such a complex area, it can be easy to put all of the focus on technical skills, but like any other career area it demands soft skills, too. Communication is important. Analytical and creative skills are definitely an asset, as are research skills for this fast-growing, young technology.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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