Quantum Journey 2: I’m not on Drugs
As the school year commenced, I decided to drag my friend Quentin into this as well. A computer science major, Quentin is also incredibly reckless about applying for things he maybe isn’t qualified for. Quentin applied to a scholars program at our university based on research and made his application about Quantum Computing, despite us being in the same boat: not knowing much about quantum computing. He got in, and now we’re both sitting in positions we maybe weren’t ready for. So, we started a 4 credit hour class called QC101 that would take place weekly and go through IBM’s Qiskit textbook. One person would lead lectures and the other would lead discussion about interesting articles related to Quantum; then we’d switch every week (with a goal of finishing a chapter a week).
Other updates on my end would be the fact that at this time, I was 10 videos into the 82 video linear algebra playlist. I also set up a call with Dr. Byrd, a professor within the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department at my university. He had some quantum stuff listed on his page in the school’s directory, and I had to meet with anyways to ask about ECE classes. Our call went well, and he suggested some more learning resources for me. I expressed my insecurities about not being a physics major, or even a computer science major, and that I felt that I wanted to learn but didn’t even know where to target my learning ambitions. He sent me a follow up email with this snippet:
For the quantum club, remember that those physics students might not know things about programming that you know, like binary representation, two’s complement integers, object-oriented programming. Once you feel comfortable, offer to lead a session or two on programming, so that the group can appreciate the larger context.
Thanks Dr. Byrd.
So at this point it was about time for me to dive into the Qiskit textbook and start preparing a presentation for chapter 1. What I quickly learned is that I dedicated a lot of time to this and I wasn’t done with Chapter 1, nor did I actually understand what was going on. I prepared a slideshow (Elon Musk themed) for 1.1 and 1.2 (+1.3 conceptual stuff), watched a couple of videos from their playlist, and did a lot of external research.
- Note: If you do decide to open the slideshow: Sorry you had to see that. Secondly, a lot of information is written in my notes, the slideshow doesn’t include everything talked up, it’s more for organization.
Lesson 1 was chaotic good. It went through some prerequisites, and started to use the QuantumCircuit() function. It went through the NOT gate and what exactly a circuit was. I felt comfortable with this having had that information hammered into my head through ECE. Something I didn’t necessarily understand through the textbook was the circuit diagrams used for Quantum and after looking at documentation, I didn’t understand why the parameters for the QuantumCircuit() function were input qubits but output bits. This is later explained in 1.3 when discussing limitations in measurement, but I kind of wish it was explained earlier.
At the end of the first lesson, I ended up assigning a second lesson within the same week (luckily our syllabus has a mention that classes were to be changed without notice). I also assigned 1.2 4.3 as homework (attaching annotated code of my Half Adder for notes), and I decided to take everything more seriously. Yes, the slideshows were purposefully chaotic and had weird themes (link to slideshow 2 theme Club Penguin and stock images of Hackers), but the information was really important and although I had the answers to most questions, there were still some I should’ve been able to answer without the Internet.
I came across a playlist on Youtube called “Quantum Computing for the Determined” and watched 6 videos of the 22 which made me feel a lot more comfortable with chapter 1. I felt that the book naturally is focused on using the simulator while the playlist spent more attention to understanding the gates and their properties from the get-go including why they were Unitary and how their actions were reversible. The book did mention these, but it more or less glossed over them while the videos went through a bunch of the corresponding math and even some proofs as well.
Another thing I did was I watched one of the Qiskit Youtube Channel videos which was a Q and A panel from their summer school. On one hand, I became a lot more curious about the technology. I was told early on that people who learn Quantum Computing are curious and don’t necessarily believe every family will have a Quantum Computer in their lifetime. I actually really liked this idea, that people just wanted to learn, but in the panel it was heavily emphasized that this field is something that requires long-term commitment and a heavy academic background. One of the panelists mentioned that you don’t “need” a Ph.D, but having one would require heavy research in an academic setting and that would be a huge plus.
I began wondering if any of this was “worth it”. Yes, I was extremely motivated to learn, in fact I actually prioritized making this slide show over doing my actual school work (and all I want to do is understand this stuff!) but would I use it? Realistically, I still don’t even know what in Electrical Engineering I want to work with whether with the Power Grid or Robotics or… Quantum Research! On the other hand, I think it would be a disservice to myself to not use this momentum I have to go forward, even if that means that maybe it won’t have a practical application in whichever career I lean towards.
After the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers NILA conference, IBM sent us special application links for different jobs, one of them was Undergraduate Quantum Researcher. I really want to apply to that, but I don’t know if I’m going to yet. It’s so weird feeling so not-ready. I honestly haven’t felt imposter syndrome like this since I started my web-dev stuff in high school. The difference there, is that my boss Dan (shoutout to Dan) offered me a job with the expectation that I knew almost nothing.
I also realized I had put so much effort only into understanding chapter 1, and there’s 7 of these. One a week might not be dedicating enough time to understanding the material in a chapter.
I ended up presenting a heavier slideshow to finish off the unit and begin explaining the idea of Quantum Spin. I then connected the dots as to how that’s kind of what we’ve been playing with this entire time. It was a nice feeling of realization to know how chapter 1 from the Quantum Computing for Everyone book connected to chapter 1 of the Qiskit textbook, even if I don’t really understand how that plays into the real world yet.
** more crisis ramblings **
Another thing is that I don’t see myself as a software developer and I would want to work on the hardware personally in the future or a balance of both, but I wouldn’t want to always be coding. So, would it be better to redirect these efforts into learning about that? I found a list of resources on Reddit and plan to read up on some hardware stuff in the upcoming week. It’s kind of sad that I have so much motivation to want to learn this and understand it (even though everyone says you never truly understand it), but there’s so much other stuff I have to do. I think I’d be happy struggling through chapters and making questionable slideshows every week, but it’s really good we get to switch off so I can work on all my other coursework. It’s important to notice that I can’t just jump to advanced stuff and I really need to know the basics, in class we’re still working on ideal circuits, and I still don’t understand linear algebra. I really feel like I’m on some weird drug when I’m learning this material because I’m so confused and disoriented, but I also have the energy to keep exploring.
In other news, I read “Hitchhiker Cat’s Guide to Getting a Job in Quantum Computing” after watching the panel Q & A where it was recommended, and decided to write a blog documenting my experience in learning (which is this!) I took note of some of the job roles which interested me the most, one of them was “Quantum FPGA Engineer” because I just learned what an FPGA was a month ago from this Hardware Engineer at Cisco and I feel like I should be playing with them but there’s no time! I also read a Medium article and LinkedIn article to get a better understanding of the gates I presented on.
Personal Goals for Next Week
- Reading and annotating the Quantum EE PDF thing from Reddit
- Working hard to understand Quentin’s lectures next week (maybe we finish chapter 2, maybe it’s too much)
- 5 more linear algebra videos
- 2 more Quantum Computing for the Determined videos
- 1 Blogpost update
- Maybe finishing my actual school work first