Studying Quantum Computing

Why back to school?

For several years I’ve been looking for a post-graduate course or degree. A whole range of reasons behind this drive, partly just the challenge of studying again, partly to add new knowledge, partly to open up different perspectives, and partly to distract from the day to day work. Or maybe just chalk it up to another midlife crisis!

Last couple of roles, the timing, workloads and logistics, just did not lend itself to also study. Until last year. I took my exit from my startup of 5 years after a merger, which left me with free time whilst I was figuring out my next role. Perfect opportunity to pick up some studies.

Quantum, and more specifically quantum computing, was on my radar for a number of years. From a personal connection, quantum physics was my mother’s degree back in the 70s and she was also working as a programmer at the time. Real trailblazer woman in engineering and tech! She was the inspiration that got me into computing in the first place.

Furthermore, I’ve been a huge fan of the works and lectures of Richard Feynman, who happens to be one of the pioneers of quantum computing (as well as quite a colourful character generally).

And more recently I’ve been following the ever-accelerating developments with making quantum computing a reality. There is an ever growing range of quantum hardware appearing on cloud platforms such as, IBM, AWS Braket and Azure Quantum amongst many others.

Quantum computing will be a paradigm shifting event for many industries and applications. So, it was exciting when I got involved with Ingenii and their push into quantum data analytics — I just had to get on with studying about quantum computing.

Why Purdue?

My goal was to find a robust course covering quantum computing, offering both the theoretical and practical, from a top school and with opportunities to build on with additional studies if I wanted to progress. I also had to find a mostly online delivery to fit around my schedule, and if it had to be hybrid then at least within some reasonable travelling distance from New York.

The initial challenge was the very limited choice of educational institutions offering serious quantum computing in the first place (without getting into PhDs). I had a shortlist of about a dozen universities, and proceeded to research deeper on each, including calls to the departments and faculty to understand exactly what they were covering in the courses.

The shortlist rapidly got shorter, either too much onsite requirements and too far away, or too theoretical, or very little quantum computing material amongst the more generic computing studies.

In the end, there was a clear leader with Purdue and their Quantum Computing MicroMasters Program, delivered fully online. It is a 10 month program, starting from the deeply theoretical quantum physics and building up practical aspects of quantum computing and its algorithms. Plus, the credits from this MicroMasters can be applied towards a full Masters degree from Purdue or RIT.

The Purdue experience

I’m towards the end of the program, and the choice of Purdue so far has been fantastic. The Purdue professors have been amazing to work with, remote delivery of education is never without challenges and impossible to work interactively. However, when teaching staff are motivated and engaged in helping then this goes a long way to overcome any issues with online studying.

We covered the basics of why quantum computing compared to classical, the theory behind quantum physics and quantum mechanics, how that gives rise to hardware able to perform quantum calculations, and then onwards to the actual algorithms that can be run and the problems to solve. There were brief tangents into quantum detectors and quantum communications, which helped round off the whole quantum subject.

The theoretical part I have to admit was hard. It’s been 20+ years since I’ve done hard core maths, and I was somewhat overwhelmed trying to pick it all up again, especially after reading the course pre-requisites about “light knowledge of maths”! I think that was a relative statement. Be warned, there’s calculus, physics formulas, and even when there is basic algebra it is overshadowed by having to wrap your mind around quantum concepts first before doing the easy adding/subtracting. Two services which helped immensely (to preserve my sanity) through all the maths were Wolfram Alpha and Wolfram Cloud.

As we are building out Ingenii, studying at Purdue has offered great opportunities to partner further with the university. Ingenii has just recently signed up to the Data Mine project, brought professors onto our Advisory Board and we are looking at further opportunities to collaborate, for example with the Center for Quantum Technologies. More to come on all those initiatives!

This hasn’t been without struggles, both working and studying at the same time, especially as work ramped up, and meeting deadlines on both sides. But still very satisfying to work through the modules, learn more about quantum computing. (And of course pass the modules!)

If you are considering further studies in quantum computing, especially whilst working, check out the offerings from Purdue University.

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