Quantum computing: 3 job interview questions for 2020

Quantum computing is poised for takeoff in industries from medicine to finance. These questions can help you identify top talent in this emerging area.
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Quantum computing bring immense potential: medical breakthroughs and advanced financial modeling, to name a few, but also some dangers, such as bringing about the end of encryption as we know it. When we’ll see these potential outcomes rests on talented people working to overcome the field’s vast engineering challenges.

As the emerging quantum industry heats up, quantum computing talent will become a highly competitive and lucrative job market, as governments and companies in tech, finance, aerospace, telecommunications, energy, and other crucial industries around the world invest in the space. While large tech companies and government-funded labs will have the advantage when it comes to attracting quantum talent, all organizations with skin in the game will benefit from a thoughtful approach to building quantum talent.

Quantum computing will become a highly competitive and lucrative job market.

[ What is quantum computing and why should IT leaders care? Read Quantum computing and security: 5 looming questions. ]

Even if you don’t yet need to hire a quantum physicist, these three interview questions can still help you spot a great candidate for a quantum-focused role.

1. What engineering challenges in the quantum space interest you most?

While much of the public’s focus has been on quantum hardware R&D – that is, the efforts by tech giants and nation-states to develop a stable, physical quantum computer – there is a wider quantum ecosystem evolving around the core hardware challenges that will be key to developing a viable commercial industry.

Candidates who are most interested in hardware development will thrive in scientific research settings, and they should have the credentials to match – 58 percent of jobs in the quantum field currently call for an advanced degree in physics, math, computer science, or engineering, and almost half prefer a Ph.D.

Beyond these core lab-based roles, there is also a need for talented developers who can build the software required to manipulate quantum-based hardware. These developers don’t necessarily need to have the advanced math or physics background labs are seeking, but they should have an interest in quantum and be prepared to learn new relevant skills on the job. In addition, up to 20 percent of open quantum-related positions are in non-scientific roles like marketing, sales, management, executive, tech support, HR, manufacturing, and operations.

2. What are you hoping to get out of your work in this role?

It’s important to determine what is driving a candidate to pursue a career in the quantum technology industry. Is it money? Prestige? The ability to build something from the ground up? The intellectual challenge?

Large companies working on quantum hardware have deeper pockets and can offer higher starting compensation and state-of-the-art facilities. In contrast, smaller firms and startups can often speak about the ability to do interesting work that will impact generations to come and perhaps offer company equity. Likewise, some applicants may prefer the more close-knit team environment that smaller firms may offer.

Understanding a candidate’s motivations is key to uncovering whether an applicant will be satisfied with their responsibilities and the resources available.

While these considerations are common across the tech field, the early-stage nature of the quantum industry makes this choice even more pointed. Understanding a candidate’s motivations is key to uncovering whether an applicant will be satisfied with their responsibilities and the resources available.

3. What specialized skills do you have that lend themselves well to working in the quantum field?

Because specialized quantum talent is in such short supply, candidates with complementary skills are attractive hiring targets. For example, quantum computing poses a major threat to existing encryption methods, so engineers with cybersecurity expertise will be in high demand for companies working on quantum encryption and post-quantum cryptography.

Developers focusing on machine learning or artificial intelligence also have an advantage, as those experiences can help augment a dynamic quantum skill set. Ultimately, candidates who can develop these skills through existing projects or continuing education will be able to make strong contributions to an organization working on quantum-related technologies.

Building the right team can be a challenge in any tech field, and the burgeoning quantum technology ecosystem will raise the bar. But for companies that want to get in on the ground floor of this emerging industry, these questions can help leaders identify the best fit for any team with quantum aspirations.

[ How will emerging technologies affect the CIO role going forward? Read: CIO role: 3 areas to focus on in 2020. ]

John Prisco is the President & CEO of Quantum Xchange (@Quantum_Xchange), the only vendor to support all forms of quantum-safe cryptography.
Herman Collins is the CEO of StrategicQC, a specialized quantum recruiting firm. Herman has over 25 years of recruitment, talent acquisition and HR leadership experience, and an extensive background in technology executive search globally in a diverse range of industries.