Working in Quantum. Insights and behind-the-scenes with ParityQC’s Anette Messinger
Our Working in Quantum interview series puts the spotlight on the people that are part of the flourishing quantum computing industry. Our fourth interview is with Anette Messinger, quantum software engineer at ParityQC. Anette has a background in quantum optics and quantum information, but her career path eventually led her to her to the field that she found most fascinating after researching it for the German government: quantum computing. At ParityQC, she engages in groundbreaking research daily while also working on ParityQC’s operating system ParityOS. Here, she walks us through the daily challenges and rewards of a career in quantum computing.
What’s your role at ParityQC?
My official position is as a quantum software engineer but my responsibilities are spread quite broadly. Aside from the software development, I do a lot of basic research, for example on alternative compilation strategies or implementations, circuit optimization, but also on completely new ways of utilising the parity framework.
How was the career path that led you to quantum computing?
It took a bit of a detour. After finishing my master studies, I was leaning more towards fundamental research on quantum optics and quantum information. So I managed to find myself a PhD position in that field at the University of Glasgow. However, before I started that position, I also had the chance to work on a report on quantum computing development for the German government, and I became more and more fascinated with all the different sides of quantum computing. Even though I still enjoyed my PhD afterwards, I knew I wanted to return to quantum computing one day, and I consider myself very lucky that my career path led me to ParityQC. My current position gives me the perfect balance of fundamental research and real-world application.
How was the general attitude towards quantum computing when you first embarked in your studies compared to now?
In the first years of my study, quantum computing always seemed like a very futuristic topic, which has interesting concepts and ideas, but is far from being realisable in the near future. Some people would even doubt that it would work at all. Now I am observing that the industry is becoming more and more interested, as everyone starts to realize they have to jump on board before it’s too late to keep pace with the rapid developments.
What are you busy with right now, and what sort of challenges are you are facing in your work?
Together with some of my coworkers, I am currently involved in developing new and improved compilation strategies. We are at a point where we have a lot of good ideas, and now we have to pick the most promising ones to start working on the actual implementations. Going from the initial idea to its realization is always the biggest (and probably the most underestimated) part of the work.
At ParityQC we have decided to go our own path and explore different ways of quantum computing, to find potential where others haven’t looked yet.
Tell us about one characteristic of the ParityQC technology that you find truly groundbreaking.
Its simplicity and beauty. It is remarkable how powerful such a simple layout of qubits as in the parity framework can be.
How does the work you are doing at ParityQC differ from what is currently the status quo in the industry? In what way are you “exploring the impossible”?
A big part of the industry is currently working on relatively well-established topics, focussing mainly on the implementation of small quantum algorithms on actual devices, or on finding and improving algorithms for more and more applications. At ParityQC we have decided to go our own path and explore different ways of quantum computing, to find potential where others haven’t looked yet. Our tight connection with Wolfgang’s research group at the University of Innsbruck helps a lot, as this allows us to investigate many different strategies before spending more time and effort on a single idea.
Your work involves a lot of trial and error, but also fantastic discoveries. What’s the best “aha!” moment you had since you joined the company?
Unfortunately, most of my “aha!” moments are still part of confidential research, so I can’t go too much into details. My favourite moment was when I had the task to find a parallelizable implementation of a novel digital quantum optimization strategy Wolfgang was interested in. I worked on it for quite a while and was almost convinced that it was not possible in the end. Only while trying to find out why it might be impossible, I suddenly realized how simple the solution actually was.
What keeps you motivated in times in which what you’re doing seems impossible to solve?
Knowing that you just need another one of these “aha!” moments, and knowing that they will come. What also helps is that we usually work on multiple projects at the same time, and if you feel stuck on one, you can just look at another project and maybe the new perspective will suddenly give you a great idea on that.
How do you train yourself to think outside the box, something necessary in an industry in which rules are still unwritten?
My whole working day is the ideal training for that. Experience very quickly teaches you that the solution is often outside the box, so you start to develop different ways of thinking automatically, and you learn to keep looking, even if something appears odd or impossible at first sight.
The advent of quantum computing will have an impact on so many different industries, which one are you particularly looking forward to seeing?
I am mostly looking forward to all the applications we haven’t thought about yet. Just like 80 years ago, no one would have expected all the great things classical computers are capable of these days, I am ready to be amazed by the future that quantum computers will bring us. I have especially high hopes for medical and pharmaceutical developments, where quantum computers could simulate the effects (and side effects) of chemicals in the body much more accurately.
What inspires you to come to the ParityQC office (or log in) every day?
Everything I have reached so far during my work here, and everything that I have yet to accomplish. There are a lot of problems I want to solve, and I know there will always be new thrilling tasks to tackle. Besides the research aspect, I am working in a great team, and I am always looking forward to exchanging and discussing new ideas with them. Especially in times of covid, it is always good to know there is this place full of friendly people to spend your day with (be it in person in the office, or through video calls and messages).
Do you have any final advice for someone just starting out in this sector?
Don’t get discouraged. When starting in the field of quantum computing, there will be a lot of strange concepts and new things to learn. But in the end, working in quantum computing (at least at the software side) is much more about solving abstract problems than applying some trained routine, so anyone with good problem-solving skills can do it.