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Meet grads with cool careers in quantum

Quantum careers

Meet three STEM grads with super positions – jobs that involve working with quantum technologies every day

Australia is a hotbed of quantum talent and innovation, and this exciting area of tech is set to revolutionise industries as diverse as finance, communications, energy, health, agriculture and manufacturing. And the job opportunities? Limitless! 

Marika Kieferova, Quantum coder

As a high school student, Marika attended a lot of physics, maths and computer science camps. “I loved the camp community,” she says. 

“While I wasn’t one of the brightest students, I decided to study physics hoping I could still keep up if I worked hard enough.”

Quantum careers
Marika Kieferova is developing programs for quantum computers that don’t yet exist.  Image: Sydney University

Fast forward to today and Marika has shown that she more than kept up. She is now a leading quantum computing scientist, mixing lecturing students with cutting-edge research at the University of Technology Sydney and Google Quantum AI. 

Pushing the limits of quantum computing

“What matters to me is working on fun projects that push the boundary of what we know about the power and limitations of quantum computing,” she says. 

Current quantum devices are too small and noisy to be useful for practical computation. Yet with so much effort and resource being poured into quantum computing, the next generation of devices will no doubt be more powerful, and need the right software.

“The focus of my work is quantum algorithms,” she explains. “I try to understand how we would program and apply quantum computers once we have them.” Of course, programming computers that don’t yet exist is a big challenge, but one she relishes. 

Currently recruiting students for her group, Marika’s advice to any budding quantum researcher is to learn as much maths as possible: “Mathematics is the language of quantum computing and there is always more to learn”.

“My second piece of advice would be to take the initiative and explore opportunities to learn quantum outside of the school curriculum,” she says. “Get in touch with researchers in your area, read quantum textbooks or attend an online conference to learn about quantum.” 

Marika’s pathway

Juan Pablo Bonilla Ataides, Error corrector

Pablo has always had a keen interest in maths and physics. At just 15 years old, his talent was noticed by the University of Sydney, who invited him to work on a research project. Six years later – as a 21-year-old Bachelor of Science Honours student at the university – Pablo published his first scientific paper. It was groundbreaking.

For the paper, Pablo had fiddled with code that had been used to correct errors in quantum computing for nearly two decades. Working with university researchers, he tweaked the code, effectively doubling its ability to snuff out errors. It has since been used widely around the world, including in Amazon Web Services’ quantum computing program.

Quantum careers
Juan Pablo Bonilla Ataides shows that following your passion for physics from an early age can set you on an exciting career journey. Image: Louise Cooper

“I am particularly thankful to the Sydney Quantum Academy for awarding me with a summer scholarship where I had the chance to wrap up the paper and work on other exciting quantum projects,” he says.

Curiosity, hard work and focus

After graduating recently, Pablo has been snapped up by California-based startup PsiQuantum. There, he is currently an Intern Quantum Architect working on quantum error correction for a quantum computer that will run on light-based technologies. 

“PsiQuantum amalgamates leaders from software engineering, maths and physics, and I get to probe their minds and learn from them daily,” he says. “It’s a truly rewarding experience.”

Pablo puts his success so far down to exercising curiosity, working hard, being focused, showing humility and learning to communicate and build relationships with other researchers. But he’s far from done yet. 

“I want to complete a PhD in quantum and keep being involved in the international effort to build a quantum computer,” Pablo says. “I’m not sure down which path this will take me but I’m excited to see where I end up!” 

Juan’s pathway

Maja Cassidy, Qubit creator

If even a supercomputer can’t tackle certain complex calculations, a quantum computer could – in theory. The problem is that even the most advanced quantum computers in the world right now suffer errors that scramble their output. The basic units of quantum data they use, called qubits, are a bit flaky.

Maja – a Sydney Quantum Academy expert and principal research manager for Microsoft Quantum in Sydney – is working on a remedy: making better qubits. She leads a team engineering qubits and integrating qubits with electronics and software.

“The process to imagine something, then plan it, build it and see it work is very rewarding,” she says.

Quantum careers
Maja Cassidy is building the (qu)bits to power next-gen quantum computers. Image: Sydney University

Maja enrolled in UNSW Sydney’s Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical Engineering), because it involved lots of maths and was a ‘platform’ degree for a wide range of potential careers. But she soon developed a love for physics – and quantum devices in particular – during her Honours research project.

Maja did take on a PhD developing imaging sensors for cancer detection, but she couldn’t resist the pull of quantum: “I missed the beauty and depth of understanding it offers,” she says.

Maja’s pathway

This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Quantum 2022, published in partnership with the Sydney Quantum Academy.

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