How can we create the community of talented people who will build, program, and use the next generation of quantum computers? Take a listen to Season 2, Episode 6 of insideQuantum to find out!
This week, Junye Huang (黄俊晔) tells us about his journey from materials science to quantum computer – as well as his experience making quantum games – and how this all led up to his current role as a Quantum Developer Advocate for IBM Quantum.
Junye Huang obtained a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) degree from Nanyang Technological University Singapore, followed by a Master of Engineering (MEng) degree from the National University of Singapore, before joining the IBM Quantum team in Singapore in March 2020, and moving to IBM Quantum in Madrid in July 2022.
Junye is also very involved in the Qiskit Advocate Program - applications for the 2023 cycle are open from June 1st to July 1st. For more details, you can check out Qiskit on Twitter, YouTube or find out more from IBM Quantum on LinkedIn.
🟢 Steven Thomson (00:06): Hi there and welcome to insideQuantum, the podcast telling the human stories behind the latest developments in quantum technologies. I’m Dr. Steven Thomson and I’ll be your host for this episode. In previous episodes, we’ve talked a lot about quantum technology, hardware and software, but we haven’t talked much about the broader ecosystem surrounding these technologies. After all, quantum computers are no use unless we have people who understand them and can program them. But how do we go about developing the necessary tools and how can we inspire and train the quantum workforce of tomorrow? Today’s guest works on solving exactly these challenges. It’s a pleasure to be joined today by Junye Huang (黄俊晔), a quantum developer advocate for IBM Quantum in Madrid. Hi Junye, and thank you so much for joining us here today.
🟣 Junye Huang (00:49): Thank you for inviting me for the podcast. It’s a pleasure.
🟢 Steven Thomson (00:52): So before we get into the details of just what a Quantum Developer Advocate does and your amazing work in developing quantum games to make quantum computing concepts more accessible, let’s first talk a little bit about your journey to this point. And let’s start right at the very beginning. What first got you interested in quantum physics?
🟣 Junye Huang (01:11): Yes, I have been always interested in physics in general since it became a subject in secondary school in China. But what really, really got me interested in quantum physics in particular was that in, I think around second year of high school, I went to a bookstore and randomly just stumbled upon a book that talks about quantum mechanics history, and it’s called ‘Does God Play Dice?’. Obviously it was written in Chinese, but that’s the name of the translation. And it was a quote that Albert Einstein I think told to Niels Bohr saying that quantum mechanics is not true, God shouldn’t play dice. And that book is really, really nicely written and it’s written almost like a novel, but it talks about really the overall development of quantum mechanics history from the beginning of Hertz’ discovery of electromagnetic waves all the way down to the Copenhagen interpretation and also later multiple universes, many-worlds interpretations. So it’s really fascinating because as I mentioned, it’s like a novel, not so much a history or a physics textbook. So it really captivated my imagination and made me really, really want to study more about quantum physics. So I think that was the moment that really got me interested in quantum physics.
🟢 Steven Thomson (02:28): So you started young then if you were in high school?
🟣 Junye Huang (02:32): Yes, but that wasn’t a moment I decided to be really, like…thinking that that could be my career. It just really got me really interested in this subject.
🟢 Steven Thomson (02:43): I see. So when did you decide that you wanted to make a career out of quantum physics?
🟣 Junye Huang (02:47): Yeah, this was a more rollercoaster journey. So even though I say that in high school I got interested in quantum physics because of reading that book, I didn’t choose physics as an undergraduate degree because I was interested in physics but also in chemistry. And then I think, I guess my high school teachers said that there’s a degree called materials engineering that allows you to learn both physics and chemistry. And I think, okay, that sounds really good. So I chose that, but soon after second year, third year that I realized I don’t really like materials engineering because, I don’t know…the materials research are a bit more like what we say cooking, that you do a lot of trying this and trying that, and this sort of trial and error. And I wanted to learn something…I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of things and trying to figure out things.
(03:42): And around that time we had a conference (OCPA8) in Singapore – I studied undergraduate in Singapore – and that was for overseas Chinese physicists. And in that conference I have seen a lot of great developments and heard a lot about stories of physicists contributing to physics. For example, there’s one physicist (Sau Lan Wu) talking about her 30 years of journey of hunting for the Higgs boson. And also I heard a lot of big developments of big scientific experiments in China, that we are planning to build big colliders or big detectors for detecting dark matter. So all these things make me really excited and were different from the book I read, which saw all these historical figures that passed away long ago. These people that I met in the conference, I heard…the stories I heard are much more real life. And so I felt for the first time that being a physicist might be not just something that you have in a dream or you write in a story when you are in primary school.
(04:44): It could be something realistic. So at that moment I think maybe I can try to be a physicist, but of course it’s…because I don’t have a very strong physics background, so it’s really hard for me to really become a physicist. I tried many different things and it’s a very long story. So I’m trying to make a quick summary. So I tried to apply for a theoretical physics PhD but obviously got rejected because I don’t have the background. And then at the end I got into an experimental physics degree in a lab that specialized in spintronics in two-dimensional materials such as graphene. But obviously I’m still more interested in quantum computing. So I’m trying to figure out the ways that I can do some quantum computing research within the limitation of my lab, which is specialized in spintronics. And I got a chance - there was a grant call, and then I talked to my supervisor and he was very supportive.
(05:46): So I wrote a grant with my supervisor to make using two-dimensional materials - there’s something called van der Waals heterostructure, basically stacking different kinds of two-dimensional materials like graphene, black phosphorous or other kinds of two-dimensional materials. And then there could be emergent properties gaining from this and using this. And of course I read a lot of papers and theory to try to see if it could make sense to make something for topological quantum computation or, maybe you have heard in some articles, Majorana fermions, or Majorana zero modes. So that was the proposal and we got lucky and we got the grants and there were 3 million Singapore dollars, which is a substantial amount of money. So I got really excited. This is a dream of mine to make up something in the lab, but it didn’t…We got a grant and then we started doing experiments and it became really difficult.
(06:45): There’s many reasons. Because my lab doesn’t have the expertise to do this extremely low temperature. We have the facility to do - we have a dilution refrigerator and measure things in milliKelvin, but our lab doesn’t do those very sensitive measurements. So I have to learn a lot of things that maybe are taken for granted if you go to a lab that already has experience of doing very low temperature measurements. So things like making a very low noise amplifier to measure qubit signal or sending a waveform is really difficult, it took me a few months to figure out because these are the things that we normally don’t mention in papers. To say, “well, how to make this small little thing” you have to dig in the PhD thesis. So that didn’t go well and I got very depressed because there’s like that experiment doesn’t really go well. And also the overall lab environment was not going very well.
(07:41): There was very little research output in the lab. So I suddenly feel there’s little future for me to become a physicist because if you don’t have good research output during a PhD, it’ll be harder for you to get a decent postdoc and it’ll be harder to get a permanent position somewhere. So it becomes really, really hard and I see there’s little hope. And then at that time, just by chance, someone from IBM came to the National University of Singapore where I was doing a PhD and she mentioned about…there’s something called Qiskit and there’s a Qiskit Camp which is like a hackathon that’s going to happen in New York around the time that I was, anyway going to APS March Meeting – American Physical Society March Meeting. So I was thinking, okay, this is something so cool and anyway, I’m already going to go there, I have plane tickets, I’m going to get paid by my university to go there.
(08:41): So I asked her to give me invitation and I got it. And then I went to Qiskit camp and in Qiskit camp I make a quantum game called QPong, or quantum version of the pong game. And that was actually a very fun experience, 24 hours that we made the game happen, but it didn’t go anywhere in the hackathon. We didn’t win any award. But after that – this is a really long story – after that I continued working with my mentor in the hackathon. I polished the game and that was actually showcased in the Boston Museum of Science, for a science fair. And then I continued working with another team. We rewrote QPong using the Unity game engine, which is a real game engine. The original QPong was written in PyGame, which is not really someone that will use to a production game, it’s just for people learning programming.
(09:41): And so we make it into…using Unity game engine to make a real game. And that is actually also running on a physical mini arcade machine, quantum arcade. And that was where I actually toured around Europe including a EU Quantum Flagship program educational event in Finland. And that just made me feel like the research I’ve been doing for two, three years…things are failing and nobody really cares what I do, because until the moment you publish a paper, nobody knows what you’re doing. And then on the other hand, I’m just making this small little game and it’s a pretty trivial thing. You don’t need to spend so much effort, but it seems like you have an impact. People care about these things I do. So that’s the moment I start thinking maybe there’s a different path in career beyond just becoming a researcher. Maybe I can do something for community, for education.
(10:39): And then a bit after that QPong was actually highlighted in a very popular Qiskit YouTube series called “Coding with Qiskit”. And there was the first ever episode of Coding with Qiskit was using QPong as the highlight. And someone from CERN saw that and CERN was going to organize a quantum hackathon and the organizer invited me to fly to CERN to attend that. And as part of the hackathon, I also had the opportunity to see the Large Hadron Collider, which is just a dream for someone that wanted to be a physicist. And usually if you want to visit that you have to schedule long ahead. But because the organizers are from CERN, so I get to see that. So that really reconfirmed that maybe doing this kind of games, community education could be a viable career option. And so I reach out to my mentor from the Qiskit camp and see whether they have a job and turns out they can hire me and then I take a strong decision. I quit my PhD and I started this job in IBM Quantum. So that’s really a long and a lot of ups and downs.
🟢 Steven Thomson (11:56): That’s a really exciting journey. You’ve done so many different things. So starting off in material science more or less and then going into experimental physics and then into all this community stuff and the quantum computing. You’ve managed to cover a lot of very different topics over those years. It’s really interesting to hear that, I guess, what made the difference for you was people was talking to people, was meeting with people. It wasn’t just doing the kind of fundamental dry physics or the publications, but it was about being inspired by people and then having the opportunity to then inspire people in turn and have them react to the things that you were creating and be excited about the things you were creating. It’s an interesting lesson in there that physics is…is and always has been done by people and not necessarily isn’t equations in the books, but it’s the people doing the science, doing the work.
🟣 Junye Huang (12:45): Right.
🟢 Steven Thomson (12:47): So given that you come from an experimental background, you don’t work on experiments at the moment, but are there any skills that you’ve learned from your experimental career that you’ve managed to bring with you into your community work?
🟣 Junye Huang (13:01): Absolutely. I learned a lot about vacuum chamber lifting…just joking. I think the most important thing that I learned is not really the things that I do so much as an experimentalist, those things the things like fabrication and things because I’m no longer a researcher and I don’t go to research lab. I think the most important skill I learned is Python. And so around the time that I was doing PhD, I think Python 2 is ending the support. So we need to migrate our measurement software to use Python 3. Of course, actually no one asked me to do that, but I was interested. So I refactored all the measurement software that was written. It’s just some custom software in my research lab and I refactored the software to use Python 3 and that really trained me how to do software development. And I also put the source code on GitHub.
(14:02): And then I also learned how to work online using GitHub and how to do the releasing software packages. And that turns out to be the most useful skill that I still use day to day every day now. And beyond that I think would be the ability to grasp key information by reading a research paper because that is still requiring my day-to-day job - maybe there’s some new research finding, new thing…just to keep ourselves up to date with the latest development. And if I don’t have the research PhD background, maybe it would be harder to read complicated research paper and to understand what it means. Or at least I think I gained the confidence that I am able to read because I’ve seen colleagues that they just feel that they are unable to read this paper because they are not used to. And then I think also the ability to make a technical presentation presenting complicated concepts using some simple way to deliver to a wide audience.
🟢 Steven Thomson (15:08): I think that’s a really nice illustration there of the different skills you can acquire during a PhD without necessarily being aware of it. I mean a lot of people get to the end of a PhD and you say, okay, what have you learned? And they’ll say, well, I’m an expert on the, I dunno Hubbard model, I’m an expert on topological anyons or something. They’ll have some very, very specific thing. But actually along the way, as you say, you’ve had to learn all these skills, you’ve had to learn how to learn from papers, you’ve had to learn how to present, how to communicate, all these little technical skills like coding some small thing or learning GitHub, the things that you learn in order to do your job but actually turn out to be very, very valuable in the long run.
🟣 Junye Huang (15:47): Yeah, I think it’s definitely something that if I would suggest to the graduate schools or postgraduate education like a university, I think that would be to emphasize a bit more on these kinds of skills that are more transferrable. Because PhD research topics are really specialized, because those topics and knowledge that you learn is really not useful beyond if you are not a researcher any more. So I think if the postgraduate research, the education system can really value that, the part that’s just beyond research, but you are training the student, not just preparing them to be a researcher but maybe for other career options.
🟢 Steven Thomson (16:30): Yeah, definitely. I think that’s a really good point. And particularly with the rise of a lot of quantum startups and companies now, there are more options than ever before for people rather than following a research path, which as you mentioned is can be extremely difficult. Now there are a lot of other options that seem to value different skill sets in a lot of different ways and that’s really, really nice to see. So if you weren’t doing your current job, what do you think you might be doing instead?
🟣 Junye Huang (16:54): Yeah, so if I didn’t go to the camp and make QPong, I think I would be probably still in my lab and then doing a postdoc because I think my research probably was not going so well. So maybe I take extra time that will be trying to really complete the experiment. So I’ll probably still be a postdoc in my lab. And then the alternative path is that I got into game development after making QPong. So I actually tried to become a game developer, not necessarily for quantum games, but really for game development. So I try to join a few game jams and then I just quickly realized I’m a terrible game developer and game designer. So I feel like either routes would be a tough job. Also I learned that game developer job is really tough. It’s like you work all hours, you have a lot of crunching, you have also the projects last really long. So I’m pretty happy that I’m ending up doing a quantum developer advocate rather than these two alternate paths, because either path will be a much tougher job.
🟢 Steven Thomson (18:05): It sounds like you’re in the right place. So you’ve mentioned a couple of times in there ‘Qiskit’. So for anyone listening that’s spelled Q I S K I T, can you tell us a bit more about what Qiskit is and what your work involves with Qiskit?
🟣 Junye Huang (18:23): So Qiskit is an open source software development kit that is used to program quantum computers. And what I do as a Quantum Developer Advocate is to really to teach people how to use Qiskit, and then using Qiskit to program quantum programs to run on actual quantum computers. And the things that we do include running events like workshops, hackathons or large scale online things like IBM Quantum Challenges, Qiskit Global Summer Schools, these kinds of things. More recently I have been working on improving the Qiskit documentation. I also run a program, I used to run a program called Qiskit Advocate Program, and that is actually a program that is supporting the most active members of the Qiskit community to do kind of mentorship program or to invite them to events that we organize to give them more opportunities to train and to take quantum computing as a viable career option.
🟢 Steven Thomson (19:30): So the Qiskit framework then this is also, if I remember right, this is in Python, which you’ve already mentioned, right? So it’s a Python based software that you can use to develop or to run simulations on real quantum computers and kind of mock quantum computers running on classical hardware as well. So you can test your system, test your code on classical computers, but then deploy the same code on real quantum devices. Is that correct?
🟣 Junye Huang (19:57): Yes. So Qiskit has actually many, many modules and also there’s an ecosystem around it. So, the core of Qiskit is called Qiskit Terra and it contains the functionality of how to make quantum programs in the level of gates or even pulses in a lower level. And it can also help, of course a lot of things surrounding things to support how we compose the circuit and running it in the actual quantum hardware. For example, the transpiler which is actually converting the ideal quantum circuit to run on an actual targeting hardware. Because depending on your hardware like superconducting qubits or trapped ions, the available gates are different. But when you actually write a quantum program, you just write the ideal ones that you think you want. And then the Qiskit transpiler takes care of this translation. So a lot of job of Qiskit Terra is really translating this gate and actually to run on the actual quantum system. (20:56): And then around the Qiskit Terra, there’s a lot of things in the Qiskit ecosystem. There are things that are made by IBM, for example Qiskit Aer, which is a high performance simulator that allows you to simulate quantum programs so that you can do debugging or developing your program before you actually send a job to IBM Quantum systems. Or there’s also other things like Qiskit Nature that have a lot of surrounding software libraries to help you to how to encode a chemistry problem or physics problem into something that can be solved by quantum computers. And there’s also third party software in the ecosystem. We have a lot of, for example, providers where we call providers at the highway provider, the plug interface to our other third party quantum systems like trapped ions we have for IonQ, we have for Quantinuum, we have for even the multi-providers like Azure Quantum or Amazon Braket.
🟢 Steven Thomson (21:56): Wow, okay. So it’s really very versatile what you can do with this. I actually had no idea that Qiskit could translate the quantum circuit for specific hardware devices. I didn’t know this. I’ve played with Qiskit. I think anyone who’s worked in quantum computing has probably at some point experimented a little bit with learning how it works, but I didn’t realize that it had had that depth of functionality. That’s really interesting to hear. So you’ve been very involved with the Qiskit Advocate program. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that is?
🟣 Junye Huang (22:28): Yeah, sure. So Qiskit advocate program is a program to support the most active members in the Qiskit community and in the program involve that you can join a Qiskit Advocate mentorship program. In the mentorship program we have people from IBM Quantum that are experts in research or in the software developments and also non IBM Quantum, maybe they’re a Qiskit Advocate or external researcher. And these are the mentors that can get paired with Qiskit Advocate mentees and they work on some project for three to six months time and then they will work on this specific topic. And within that you also have a career advice component that a mentor can give advice to the mentees what it is to be working in the quantum computing industry. And so it really helps people to get started, to have a taste of the industry by the working aspect and also getting advice and also it helps them to have this experience that may help them to apply for internships or applying for a full-time job. So I’m really excited that this mentorship program is helping a lot of people and there’s also things beyond the mentorship program such as when we organize events or our partner clients that have some advanced, we can invite the Qiskit Advocates to support the advance giving talks, hackathons, they can become mentors.
(23:57): So these kinds of things really…really just helping them to build their resume to be able to really start other kinds of more serious kinds of career things. And also in our IBM Quantum internship, being an advocate is an advantage so they can also apply for IBM Quantum internship, a bit easier than other people, at least you get highlighted and maybe you can go to the interview stage and things like that. And I’m also excited since we launched the program in 2019, we have seen a lot of people becoming Qiskit Advocates and then later really working in the quantum industry. I can’t claim that they joined the quantum industry is because of joining Qiskit Advocates. But I would say that I think it probably helped them quite a lot because they give them exposure, give them the opportunity to do various things and then they work in IBM Quantum work in other companies.
(24:54): And I am just really happy that we see more and more people get to join, because traditionally more people are just training in research or computer science background to do this, but we really need a lot more people to work in this industry because it’s growing so fast, and waiting for people to be able to just start the program in undergraduate and then master and PhD is a bit too late. So we need to enable people that to be able to join even if they don’t have the specialized training in quantum computing. So I think that program is really placed nicely to be able to train the workforce that we need to really grow the quantum computing industry.
🟢 Steven Thomson (25:32): Yeah, definitely. It sounds like a fantastic opportunity for anyone wanting to get involved with quantum computing. So then what does a day in your life look like? It seems like you’re involved in a lot of very different projects all with the same goal of I guess educating and empowering people, but what does a typical day at work look like for you?
🟣 Junye Huang (25:51): It’s very hard to say what’s a typical day. Like you say, I’m involved in many different projects and also there’s many…I have a lot of colleagues also have the same job title as me quantum developer advocate, and they all do very different jobs. So I can say what have been involved and what a day in my life could look like. As I mentioned before that I was involved in IBM Quantum Challenges or sometimes conducting a workshop, giving talks, hosting hackathons. More recently I’ve been involved in Qiskit documentations and also I have been working with front end developer to put a new page on Qiskit.org website, Qiskit.org/providers, which is highlighting the various different hardware systems, software systems or cloud simulators that Qiskit can connect to. And so really is a huge variety of different jobs. So my job involved could be when I’m working on more Qiskit documentation would be I go to GitHub and then I will see whether there’s other issues or the users have reported, maybe there’s a bug in the documentation, maybe there’s like errors or maybe formatting and things.
(27:06): And then we are trying to see how to prioritize those and try to fix. And we are also working on improving the Qiskit documentation as a whole in terms of the infrastructure, how to build it more efficiently so that…because Qiskit is open source software, we have a lot of external contributors contributing to it. We are also improving the Qiskit documentation building so that our external contributor can build a documentation on the local computer and then they can, if they see a error, they can fix it and then they make a pull request and then contributing to the Qiskit documentation project. So that is about Qiskit documentation. On the website front, so I will work with front end developers that is also inside IBM Quantum team. And then what my job is is to gather all the existing Qiskit providers around the internet trying to dig in.
(28:04): And also in the website itself we have information about the provider and also code examples. So what I did was I wrote some script trying to automate this thing because we actually have 30 different providers and we want to write a few, like three different code examples. A simple quick example like running a Bell, running a VQE, transpiring circuit. So hand writing individual ones will be real time consuming - three times 30 is already 90. So while I was trying to make a bit more scalable that I can just say I want to write these three algorithms and then these 30 providers and each of them have some specific information, but I can write a script to synthesize the final code output that they will all work, but I don’t need to write them individually. So that involves some kind of programming but also about researching different type of things and also how to test code. So it’s really involving a little of this. And also of course I need to communicate with the front end developers about what we want to do, what we want to achieve and how we can achieve them. Given the limitation maybe at the front end, certain framework they use, certain guideline they have to follow. So really involve many different things.
🟢 Steven Thomson (29:27): It’s a really interesting balance there of technical skill and communication skill because I guess you’re, yes, you’re working with the community in terms of the Qiskit documentation and bug reports and things like this. You’re talking a lot with users I guess, but then you’re talking with front end web developers and partner companies working with you. So yeah, I guess you’re communicating with a lot of people in very, very different roles, all of who probably want slightly different things from Qiskit and from you and who are probably using slightly different technical terms. So that must be a really challenging thing to stay on top of.
🟣 Junye Huang (29:58): Yeah, I think definitely that is a big challenge. And also probably I think what we should really focus on…doing something like deep technical problem, your research and then you have to talk to people from different disciplines and that actually allows you to have this training to be able to do this because actually is really an essential part of many jobs, even for not quantum, like any other technical job. Because very often you have to explain something very technical that is only knowledge that people within a very small circle know to explain another things. Like, I talk to front-end developers, I need to learn their language, I need to know what kind of tool they use, what kind of terms they use. You could describe a thing for one paragraph, but actually if you just know exactly what term they use, they just get it immediately.
🟢 Steven Thomson (30:52): Yeah, I feel like that’s one of the big challenges facing the sort of quantum technology community right now is that it involves people from so many different backgrounds, from physics, from a little bit from material science and chemistry, from computer science people with mathematical backgrounds. And sometimes we do end up in these situations where we use the same word to mean completely different things and I find that leads to some very confusing situations. Getting everyone on the same page, just using the same language or just understanding what the other party means. It feels like that must be a really challenging thing to do on a daily basis to keep mentally adjusting and thinking, okay, this person is from this background, this is the correct way to talk to them so that they’ll understand quickly and efficiently what I’m trying to say.
🟣 Junye Huang (31:35): Yeah, related to that is I mentioned that Qiskit is an open source project. So it’s quantum software. So like you say that people working in the field have different backgrounds or science background or computer science background. So the people that contribute to Qiskit also have various backgrounds. People that have computer science background - they are more used to how to use Git, GitHub or the code in Python, but they are more scared of the Quantum aspect. They think that they don’t understand what’s going on in Qiskit, the software. While, on the other hand, people that with more science training, they might be researchers, they might actually use Qiskit for something very advanced and then they see some problem and they want to improve, but because they’re not so used to writing code or they don’t know how to use GitHub. So for them to contribute to Qiskit there are also a lot of hurdles to overcome.
(32:32): So one of the thing in my team, the Qiskit Developer Advocacy team do is also to facilitate external contributors to contribute because people really have various background, various expertise, we need to do a lot of handholding to make the people from more research background to be able to just do some basic things. When you make a pull request, you should test the thing that you change or write a description to describe what you change. Something real basic maybe for computer science background students is not obvious at all for research background, and vice versa that for someone to motivate someone from computers science background to start contributing, you could tell them that there’s actually a lot of non quantum aspect in Qiskit that you can contribute and you can get started there. And even for very quantum concepts, software insight, it’s not that difficult to understand if you just overcome this first barrier of scale, you just think that you won’t be able to understand because you don’t have the training.
🟢 Steven Thomson (33:36): So you’ve been very involved in a lot of different aspects of community work, including things like the Qiskit Advocates program, but also Quantum Challenges. Can you tell us a little bit about the different types of projects that you’ve been involved with and why they’re so important to you?
🟣 Junye Huang (33:50): So I can first talk about IBM Quantum Challenges because they are really dear to my heart in many aspects. First is that it is a really big scale online event that really allows many people to get started in quantum. In fact, many people in our Qiskit community get started by doing a Quantum Challenge first. Because it’s a very intense thing, just like a week or two that allows you to really focus and learn something – a lot of things – in a short time. And then after they finish a Challenge they feel like, okay, they are ready to get started, they can start exploring different things. So this is really important for us in IBM Quantum and also for the community, I think it really helped people get started. And for me personally also, I’ve been involved in many Quantum Challenges including leading one of the Quantum Challenges in May, 2021. And that really just trained me as a person for leadership, how to lead a team to make something happen because it involves many, many different people, like 40 people, some people I’m directly managing, some people I have to work with.
(35:00): And that really scales across really different teams in the IBM Quantum, down from deployment because in that time it was the first time we allowed IBM Quantum Challenge participants to have exclusive access to real IBM Quantum systems. We allowed people to use a seven qubit system and also enabled them to have the pulse access that is lower level access than the normal gates that you find you can define waveform and then controlling and sending waveform to control the qubit…that is not normally enabled for the open access plan. But that was one of the things that we designed in one of the Challenge problems. And so they have deployment team, I need to talk to people on the software development team, because some of the capabilities may not be stable. There was a bug that we discovered while developing the Challenge content and we needed to fix it before the Challenge.
(35:57): There’s also of course marketing. We have people actually running the program within our community team. I also need to work with external people. We have the Qiskit Advocates, who help us to run the Challenge. They’re mentors, they help the participants, so I need to talk to them, train them. And so this really involves a lot of things and also making something happen in a very short amount of time and have a tough deadline because you say you’re going to launch in a certain date, you have committed to a very public day and there is going to be thousands of people running it for just one week. It’s a big challenge. And I just feel that I learn a lot by really leading the Quantum Challenge. And so for me it is a really important thing, it just trained me as a person.
🟢 Steven Thomson (36:45): That’s interesting that you, you’ve benefited I guess from taking part in these sort of hackathon, Challenge events yourself and that has opened up a lot of opportunities for you. And then now you’ve gone on to be in a position where you can lead them, you can deliver them, you can give those same opportunities to new people and then who knows what they’ll go on and do with it. That’s really exciting.
🟣 Junye Huang (37:06): Yeah, exactly. I feel like just the fact that I come from a community, I joined a Qiskit camp and I was also one of the first batch of Qiskit Advocates and after entering IBM Quantum, I actually ran the Qiskit Advocate program shortly afterwards. So it’s really interesting how I’ve become just from the person that is actually participating to someone that is actually helping people participate. And I do feel really happy about doing these things because I can see that other people like I was, maybe frustrated to try to get into the quantum computing industry and by doing these kinds of events or some initiative can help these people find different kinds of paths beyond just research. Because I think from the way I talk to also the way I was thinking, I thought the only way to contribute to the quantum computing industry is to become a researcher, either theoretical researcher developing algorithms or hardware researcher making better hardware.
(38:17): But actually, just like any industry, you have people doing all kinds of jobs, you have people building a website, you have people that are doing like us community building, we have educators, we have people doing marketing, we have people doing HR, like those things that you usually don’t consider as a quantum job, but actually they make significant contribution to the industry. And those things should be considered as a viable option if of course they align with your interest. But that’s one thing that I often remind people that I interact with that they feel they cannot find a job because really finding a decent PhD and becoming a researcher and then at the end working in research is just really, really, really difficult. And there’s just a tiny percentage of people who can really make it. And it’s not about whether you are smart or not. Sometimes just because you are not in the…your educational environment doesn’t enable you to have that, maybe from a country that doesn’t have those kinds of opportunity.
🟢 Steven Thomson (39:19): Yeah, I think that’s a really important point that there are so many, a very diverse range of different roles available now in the quantum ecosystem. And it’s not just the case that you have to be a researcher, but there are so many other ways to contribute. That actually leads on quite nicely to one question that I ask all guests on this podcast, which is to say that physics has historically been a field dominated mostly by white cisgender men for a very, very long time. And there’s still quite a long way to go before we reach any kind of level playing field. In your experience, having worked both in academia and an industry and having worked in several different countries, have you seen attitudes towards diversity changing over the years or between the different countries or industries that you’ve worked in? And are things getting any better? Are things changing at all?
🟣 Junye Huang (40:05): I definitely think this is an important topic and I really like that you include this question in every episode of your podcast. And I also think that the quantum industry is still young and we have the chance, a unique chance to make it right, that we care about this problem and then start taking action because it takes time to actually make it right. So I can say from IBM Quantum that I’m proud to say that I think we are doing a pretty good job and we have initiatives to help this both internally in IBM Quantum and also for the community. And then in terms of initiatives in our IBM Quantum, in our hiring pipelines in internships and full-time hiring, we have initiative to increase the underrepresented represented minorities in the hiring. And also for externally, we have the IBM-HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) Center that’s really giving opportunities for black students to do research and to have a career in the quantum computing industry. We also partner with Qubit x Qubit School, and the Qubit x Qubit School is an online course to teach quantum computing for many people, I think more than 10,000 people. And that school has a strong focus of helping underrepresented minorities. I think more than 40% of the students are minorities. And then of course we also do a lot of events focusing on women in tech. So we have a woman in quantum talk series and we also do recruitments in woman focus events like Grace Hopper conference.
🟢 Steven Thomson (41:53): That’s really great to hear. And I think what you said at the beginning, there was a really interesting point because this is such a young field now is the time, now is the time to take the lessons learned from maybe the older fields where these biases and imbalances are so built in that they’re quite hard to shift and now is the time when this new field is starting. Take those lessons, apply them, do it right from the beginning and then hopefully it will remain right in the future if we get it right now. That’s a really interesting point.
🟣 Junye Huang (42:22): Definitely.
🟢 Steven Thomson (42:23): All right. One final question to wrap up then. If you could go back in time and give yourself just one piece of advice, what would it be?
🟣 Junye Huang (42:35): I think this sounds a bit cheesy and maybe it’s not new. I would say follow your heart. Maybe you can hear from my journey…I feel a lot of things that I do like QPong or maybe reading the book, it’s lot of things are pretty random and I decided to do them not because I think it’s going to be good for career, but at the end it actually make a significant impact on my life. And so I think just, of course you should have some target in your life and try to do that with reasons, but also maybe from time that I do some side project that just spark your interest and maybe those things actually going to really make an influence and even if they don’t, at least you have fun with it.
🟢 Steven Thomson (43:25): Perfect. I think that is a fantastic place to wrap this up. So if our audience would like to learn a little bit more about you, is there any way they can find you on the internet, on social media, anything like that?
🟣 Junye Huang (43:37): Yeah, definitely. I’m pretty active on Twitter and LinkedIn. You should be able to find me. You can search for my name and you should be able to find me on GitHub or if you join the Qiskit Slack workspace, you should also be able to find me.
🟢 Steven Thomson (43:48): Perfect. Well, we’ll leave some links to those on our own website insidequantum.org. Thank you very much Junye Huang (黄俊晔) for your time today.
🟣 Junye Huang (43:56): Thank you very much.
🟢 Steven Thomson (43:57): Thank you also to the Unitary Fund for supporting this podcast. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please consider liking, sharing and subscribing wherever you like to listen to your podcast. It really helps us to get our guest stories out to as wide an audience as possible. I hope you’ll join us again for our next episode. And until then, this has been insideQuantum. I’ve been Dr. Steven Thomson and thank you very much for listening. Goodbye.