Quantum computing IT teams – the road ahead
• A guild system can build trees of expertise.
• There will be multiple strategies for quantum computing.
• The future belongs to the open-minded.
As we get ever closer to the application of quantum computing in business settings, we face a significant challenge in terms of staffing the IT departments that will be tasked with keeping it on the rails and making it both ass safe and as efficient as possible. We spoke Scott Bucholz, Global Quantum Lead at Deloitte Consulting about the various ways in which the IT team in modern companies would have to evolve to meet these challenges.
In Part 1 of this article, Scott explained that the challenge of quantum computing IT staffing mirrored previous – and even current challenges in other areas, like data science. In Part 2, he explained the way to staff an IT team that will specialize in quantum computing… before quantum computing technically becomes a real thing, with its own remit and guardrails.
In particular, he explained a system at use in Deloitte, which is part medieval guild, part Jedi academy – a system that allowed interesting “apprentices” to pair up with more knowledgeable staff or advisers to learn, to grow, and eventually to advance and begin the process again.
That’s a way, for instance, to avoid having to fill IT departments with fully qualified (and expensive) quantum physicists, or quantum information scientists. Having some of those experts available on a “phone a friend” basis could be enough to help grow IT teams able to cope with quantum computing, while the technology grows and evolves – probably rather than arriving en masse in one spectacular innovation.
The burden of math.
While talking to Scott, we couldn’t help but wonder whether the makeup of quantum computing IT teams would require a lot more math and physics knowledge than has become the norm with traditional computing IT teams.
Quantum computing and the IT gap
No, no. We’ve spent so long working with computers as we know them, that we assume that math is everything. Because traditional computers are all calculators underneath the covers.
Because quantum computers are actually different, given that they’re using physics, not math, I think the biggest challenge will be that will have to retrain their intuition about how things work. Because no longer is it as much about the math, although there is that to a degree, of course. And you can certainly approach things using linear algebra.
But what’s also interesting is, if you look at the history of classical computer science, there was a similar trend back in the early days of traditional computers, where you had the mathematicians on one side, and those who were becoming developers on the other.
You watch those things cross pollinate over time, but it isn’t necessarily true that one won and the other one didn’t. Although you do see more developers today than you see mathematicians and theoretical computer scientists thinking about the nature of how things work.
I think we’re going to see something similar, but what I’m not as certain about is whether or not math is going to be the thing that carries the day in the long run.
To fix today’s problem, or anticipate tomorrow’s?
Right now, we have an existing skills gap in IT. Where should we best put our energies? Plugging that gap, or moving towards a more quantum-based model?
I think most organizations already have enough going on, and then this comes along and becomes one more thing to deal with.
When you get into the “one more thing to deal with” bucket, what sometimes works is this idea of having a couple of people who are dedicated to spending their time exploring what it means. The art of doing that is making sure that they don’t become completely disconnected from everybody else. For instance, in engineering, you have the explorers of the emerging technologies working with the rest of the organization, and that’s really the art of being successful.
How do you engineer things so that you wind up with some degree of advantage over time where you’re actually channeling the innovation into productive areas, as opposed to just having innovation happening, but not having it connected to what’s going on?
That’s where ideas like guilds come in. That’s where being able to “phone a friend” to get help and advice comes in. That’s where all the things that we’ve tried in years past come in, because it’s not like we haven’t seen new technologies get introduced dozens of times over the years.
This one’s a little different, but at the end of the day, it’s kind of similar to a lot of the other evolutions that we’ve seen.
Strategies for success.
That’s a point of differentiation, isn’t it, between teams that are in the thick of it, teams that are “in the loop,” as it were, and the outside world, which probably won’t care too much. To the outside world, it’ll just be a new way of doing things, and it’ll enhance what’s possible.
But IT teams in companies have to deal with the combined pressures of learning about quantum computing, dealing with it – and still keeping the lights on, and the malware at bay, and making sure everybody’s password works, and so on.
That’s right. And there are lots of strategies to help them to do that. Right. Some companies have the innovation function in house, some people are outsourcing bits of it. There are a myriad of strategies, I think.
Quantum computing explained
But while we may not know much for certain about the coming of quantum computing to corporate IT teams, there’s one thing we can say for certain. The worst strategy is the Ostrich strategy.
All strategies are not equally valid – almost all, but not that one. Stick your head in the sand and you’re going to lose out. Beyond that, there are lots of valid strategies that might work well for you, depending on your organization and where you are and all the other things you have going on.
How much of the business world do we think is at all ready for the coming of quantum computing?
Well, fundamentally, I’m not sure any of us are quite ready for this. And here’s why I say that. If things play out the way the most optimistic among us think they will, we’re going to have capabilities to do things that we can’t yet imagine.
And the interesting thing when that happens is suddenly you decide that there are problems you’ve been ignoring for years that are now solvable, which then enables other things to happen.
You can think about this like the transition from cassette tapes, through DVDs to streaming media, right? 30 years ago, none of us would have thought you could carry the world’s inventory of music in your pocket. And yet, here we are.
So, 30 years from now, what is not possible today becomes possible, and who can actually see those things when most of us can’t actually see them today? That’s actually what’s going to get interesting.
And I believe that the winners at the end of the day are going to be the ones who are able to start seeing the possibilities of quantum computing the fastest, and see where that impacts businesses and what things that opens up. Things that we can only imagine today – or indeed, can’t. It’s exceptionally difficult to plan for what you can’t even imagine. That’s why the Ostrich strategy is no good.
The future of quantum computing, both in IT teams and in general, belongs to those who are starting to think about it now, and keeping their minds as open as possible.
28 September 2023
28 September 2023
28 September 2023