Guilds and apprentices – the evolution of the quantum computing IT team
• Quantum computing to revolutionize IT teams.
• Right sort of mind can fill quantum IT gaps.
• Guild system can create virtuous knowledge trees.
Quantum computing is a technology that’s expected to revolutionize our relationship with computers, as well as the range of things we can do with them. But it will also revolutionize the makeup and the nature of IT team. To avoid being taken completely by surprise, companies would be wise to start evolving their IT teams now, in the pre-quantum era. But how can they possibly do that?
In Part 1 of this article, we spoke to Scott Bucholz, Global Quantum Lead at Deloitte Consulting about the ways in which quantum computing mirrors previous – and ongoing – technological revolutions, like the rise in data science, and the way teams evolve to deal with sudden new needs and new capacities.
While we had Scott in the chair, we asked him whether IT teams, even in major Fortune 500 companies, were anywhere close to ready for the impact of quantum computing, particularly in terms of the training and possibly recruitment pipeline.
Quantum computing and the IT gap
I think the short answer is likely not. In part because it takes more time than people appreciate at the moment to bring people up to speed. And again, it comes back to when you think demand for quantum computing IT teams is going to materialize at scale. But the likelihood of us shooting that curl correctly and getting the right number of skilled people available at the point in time when the scaling takes off is not high, because people react to what they see today, not what’s coming down the road in a couple of years.
The power of transferable skills.
So what do we do? In Part 1, we talked about the idea of pairing a highly-knowledgeable person – essentially in this case a bona fide quantum physicist or quantum information specialist – with less qualified people. Is that as good as it gets in terms of preparing for the quantum computing IT team?
I think what we need to do is look around and try to find people who have the closest transferable skills.
For optimization, that seems to be people who are more mathematically inclined, sometimes data scientists, certainly operations researchers, those are people who tend to find the basic problem, they understand the basic problem, and what we’re teaching them is the nuance of doing this with the quantum computer.
The same thing is true for data scientists. And it runs the gamut in terms of in terms of how things work. What we generally find is that there are humans who are more curious about what goes on under the hood. And the more curious people are about how things works, the easier it tends to be for them to make the transition.
That makes sense assuming we have a notional time crunch, and that it’s worth preparing for ahead of its arrival. Are we looking at mostly evolving an internal pipeline within companies for this, or are we starting to see the development of external educational provision to help businesses upskill for the quantum age?
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Quantum computing explained
Yes, we’re starting to see some quantum information science programs crop up in universities. But as yet, there are not millions of them – there might be dozens. I don’t know how many of them are at the undergraduate level just yet. I think, though, that you’ll see that evolution continue over time.
And the useful thing, the thing that plays in our favor just now, is that if you think about staffing a team of people, not everybody needs to understand the mechanics of how things work under the covers.
You need a number of people who are familiar enough with how things work that they can do useful things, and who can effectively “phone a friend” when they get stuck. Right. That’s what we’re going to see – organizations are going to find over time that that’s the kind of structure they need.
None of this is really new in terms of the pattern. It’s just that we’re applying this process to a new space.
The right sort of brain.
So you don’t need an army of quantum experts. You need an army of people with the right sort of brains, and enough experts that the useful workers can call on in the event that they get stuck with a critical quantum conundrum?
Meaning that eventually the people who now just have the right kind of brain will eventually have all the right kind of knowledge – because by then, the technicalities of the thing will have eased off, and we’ll be into a more operational phase?
Yes – if you find the right people, and they have enough intellectual curiosity, they’re going to try a bunch of things. And when they don’t work, they’ll go “I expected this to happen when I did that. And now, either I go figure it out, or I go ask somebody what’s going on.” That’s what you really need.
You start off on an internal basis, and as things progress, and certainly once we’ve had the Frankenstein moment where fault-tolerant quantum computing becomes an identifiable reality, there’ll be more education aimed at serving this new thing. So you’ll get more people coming in that know more and have evolved to speed up that way.
Don’t dream it…be it.
The other thing most people underappreciate is that in every decent-sized organization right now, there is somebody, probably in their twenties, who’s already looking at the technology. They’re doing it on their own. They’re doing it on nights and weekends. It’s a hobby, it’s a curiosity. And sometimes the challenge is not so much going and finding somebody in the external market, it’s actually figuring out how to channel the internal enthusiasm that already exists.
And presumably, channeling that enthusiasm becomes easier once a company has got its people who have greater “official” knowledge in the door, because of that thing where you can’t be a thing if you can’t see a thing – if these young enthusiasts suddenly see someone in their company that’s a relative quantum computing expert, it can draw them out and maybe let them self-identify, flagging up their enthusiasm and making for an easy pairing – and potentially an easy pathway into more expertise.
Exactly. We have this concept internally – we call it guilds for emerging technologies. It borrows from the medieval guild construct where the experts would teach the apprentices, and there’s a structure that’s designed to produce reasonably consistent outcomes.
But it’s also positive because it’s a beacon. So when people are curious, you can send them there. And then, as you say, there’s a certain degree of self-selection as people decide how enthusiastic they are, and whether or not this is just a curiosity or something in which they want to actively invest their time and energy. It tends to work really well for us.
In Part 3 of this article, we’ll look at the likely progression of events between now and the “Frankenstein moment” of quantum computing, and what skills – apart from the right sort of mind – the quantum computing IT team will need to have.
29 November 2023
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