My story

I currently work for IBM in the quantum computing division, specifically in their community and education team. This is definitely not what I thought I would be doing, even two years ago, let alone in high school. So how did I get here? In high school, I really enjoyed science and maths, but was interested in programming and computing. So when deciding what to do at University I made the choice to do both physics and computing. I did a bachelor of engineering in software engineering and a bachelor of science in physics.

My plan at the time was to do astrophysics because space is cool and I think a lot of people's scientific awakening really happens when they look ask what is out there? Where do we come from? How has the universe made, you know, the big, fundamental questions that you hear little kids ask. I went on to do research projects in astrophysics at ANU, Melbourne and Swinburne. But I decided I actually didn't want to do astrophysics and changed directions a bit and did my honours and PhD in the area of experimental particle physics. I worked on a project using the ATLAS Experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. I then did a postdoc based in Geneva at CERN, and after that I decided I wanted to move back to Melbourne and left particle physics to join IBM Research.

Roles at IBM

I have three different separate roles within IBM Quantum. One of which is working on a team that does joint research with IBM clients around quantum computing. In that area, I'm working with Woodside Energy. They're based in Perth and we're looking at a project around quantum machine learning.

My second part of the role is around supporting our University of Melbourne hub. The University of Melbourne is a hub of the IBM Quantum Network, which means that they have access to our premium quantum devices. So I help them in terms of making sure that their access is working and providing general and technical support. I liaise with the team and make sure that they have what they need to, to use the systems and publish papers on their research. IBM put our first quantum computing device online in 2016 and now in 2021 we have over 20 devices online, some of which are completely free for anybody to use! Then there is another set, which is for our premium partners like the University of Melbourne.

My third part of my role is working on the community team for open education. This means I write online educational materials for people who want to learn about quantum computing, as well as helping run events, globally and locally. So in that role we have what we call Qiskit, which is a software development kit in Python, where anybody can use Python, the programming language, to program quantum computing algorithms, and then either run them on simulators or our hardware. We also have an online interactive textbook teaching people the fundamentals of quantum computing, with pieces of code throughout it, so that people can run the code as they're learning about the concepts. We also run an online summer school for students learning quantum commuting, and this year we had over 4,000 students sign up to do the two week online school.

Choosing Who to Work With

So I think sometimes you don't get to choose who you get to work with, [rather] you get to choose where you work. For example when you're applying for schools or you're applying for certain programs you don't get to choose who you get to work with at that University. I think it's always good to have breadth in what you do. So you get a wider experience of people and places. Even though I did my undergraduate at the University of Melbourne, I did internships at ANU and Swinburne just to see what different universities are like and to meet different people.

For my postdoc, I wanted to move to a slightly different research project and area. So a lot of people, when they do particle physics, they stay within a large collaboration because they already know the people. They already know the software. I decided I wanted to move from the ATLAS experiment, which is what I did my PhD and honors in, to the LHCb experiment, which is a different collaboration, because I just wanted to try something new and see what it was like doing a different type of physics with a different type of collaboration.

I like trying different things. Even though I've now been with IBM for more than eight years, I've been doing lots of different things over my career with IBM.

Surprising things

One surprising and unexpected thing I found working for IBM is that such a big corporation is willing to have people, like me, working on contents and materials that are made completely free and available to all. The fact they support large events that don’t cost any money to sign up to is amazing.

Another unexpected thing about my work is how I use being creative to help me problem solve. For example some of the aesthetic closure I get in the work that I do is making it look pretty. I find myself making really pretty slides that line up well and have matching colors, this process not only makes me really happy but helps clear my mind. When I'm doing small tasks like that, it helps me free my thinking and I start to think about what else could I do? Like how do I solve a different type of problem?

Advice

So this is advice that was given to us at IBM from our past CEO, Ginni Rometty, and I like now to repeat it to others because I think it's really important for people to realize that the advice from business from a CEO to their company can be the same as people in science give to younger students. It’s important to know that science is part of the wider world. The three pieces of advice that she gave the company as she was leaving was:

1) Never let anyone define you.

So this is, if you believe you're a scientist, you can call yourself a scientist. Even if you're not working as a stereotypical scientist, for example you don’t fit the 'wears a lab coat in an experimental lab'.

2) The second piece of advice is growth and comfort never coexist.

If you're comfortable in a job, you're probably comfortable with what you're doing. You're probably not growing as a person or in your career or in your skills.  You have to be uncomfortable to be learning and growing in an area.

3) The final piece of advice is to work on something that matters to you.

I think this was really interesting coming from somebody who’s a CEO of a company. I think this is important on many levels, whether it’s something that matters as a scientific problem that you want to solve or a business problem that you want to solve.

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