Quantum skills for an unlimited future

Companies around the world are racing toward a quantum-powered future, investing billions of dollars to plunge into quantum computing. While some flavors of quantum capabilities exist today, many experts anticipate a full-blown quantum computer within 10 to 20 years. Some believe it may arrive sooner.

Why all the buzz? Unlike today’s computers, quantum promises exponential leaps in speed, power and the ability to solve what is unsolvable today. This could potentially have a huge impact across industries including financial services, government and even retail—virtually any industry that can benefit from increased processing speed and optimization. And quantum could be the trump card in areas such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals to help drive innovation in drug research and new treatments.

But just because we can see it coming doesn’t mean adoption will be easy. Even mainstream technology professionals are only beginning to consider quantum’s potential. According to a new IBM Center for Applied Insights study, “A quantum of possibilities,” there are ways that companies can prepare for a quantum future.

Nurture new skills and create new roles

The key is to start with nurturing the right skills. Experts believe there will be a variety of quantum roles in demand.

Quantum scientists: Much of the knowledge base today exists in academia at MIT, Harvard, Pricenton and the like. Accelerating quantum adoption will require universities to play a role in expanding programs to offer more a robust curriculum that bridges technical and business topics to equip the quantum workforce of the future to be prepared for the business world.

Quantum engineers: Few tech leaders have invested in R&D departments focused on quantum research. Designing and building quantum systems will require expertise much the same way today’s systems and applications require specific skills sets. Quantum engineers will play a key role in helping companies find value through quantum for industries and applications.

Quantum generalists: Quantum computers may not sit on every desktop, but quantum generalists will be needed to bridge the chasm between cutting-edge technical capabilities and the needs of businesses and end users.

Quantum entrepreneurs: Quantum experts are already collaborating across academia and the private sector to speed innovation and the development of quantum devices. While the initial surge may be within larger enterprises, startups and venture capitalists have already begun getting into the game, accelerating development and increasing the demand for skills.

The potential benefits of quantum computing are clear. But the challenges of adopting this new technology are only beginning to be considered. The ongoing skills shortages in critical areas such as cybersecurity, cloud computing and data science reveal that the best time to create conditions for skills development is as soon as possible.

Previously published on the Social Business Spotlight, IBM, January 6, 2016.

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