I often get asked by students and postdocs who are looking to transition into quantum tech, “what skills do I need?” To help answer this question, I asked some of my friends and colleagues at various quantum tech startups what skills they looked for when hiring.

A big thank-you to the following people for their thoughtful replies!

Aurélie Hélouis from infinityQ • Tommaso Demarie from Entropica Labs • Théau Peronnin from Alice&Bob • Joe Fitzsimons & Si-Hui Tan from Horizon Quantum Computing • Noel Goddard from Qunnect • Peter Johnson from Zapata Computing • Mark Jackson & Alyn Chad Edwards from Cambridge Quantum Computing • Terry Rudolph & Mercedes Gimeno-Segovia from PsiQuantum • Joel Gotlieb from D-Wave Systems • Maksym Sich from AegiQ • Alireza Najafi-Yazdi from Anyon Systems • Alex Khan • Vlad Gheorghiu from Software Q • Paula Mazurek from Beit • Paul Terry from Photonic Inc • Aharon Brodutch from Entangled networks • Ish Dhand from Xanadu • David Nolet from Optonique • Samuel Mugel from Multiverse Computing • Nir Minerbi from Classiq Technologies

My question was pretty open-ended, and the replies ranged a lot in format and content. I toyed with the idea of presenting the results as a word cloud, but that didn’t look very useful. In the end, I opted for a qualitative analysis.

After reading through all of the responses, I was able to identify several recurring themes:

  • Domain expertise
  • Programing
  • Communication (especially with people from different backgrounds)
  • Collaboration
  • Organization and time management
  • The ability to quickly turn ideas into products
  • The ability and motivation to keep learning
  • The ability to work in an uncertain environment
  • Leadership
  • Problem solving skills
  • Life skills

Apart from the skills in this list, several desirable personality traits also came up.

To give deeper insight into each theme, I selected relevant excerpts from the respondents’ replies (for domain expertise, I also summarized the examples mentioned). I reproduce these below.

As a bonus, I also reproduce one respondent’s reply, in full, that digs a little deeper into how you can demonstrate and develop these skills. You can find this at the very end.

Finally, before you dive in, a word of caution! The excerpts below represent the collective wish-list of 23 people working for 20 different companies. Please do not compare yourself to some mythical super-human who possesses all of these skills!!! No one expects you to excel in all of the ways mentioned below, and certainly no one expects you to be an expert in all of the domains listed.

Instead, I suggest you use the information as follows: 1) To help you identify skills that you already have, but perhaps didn’t realize were valuable; 2) To help you articulate how your existing skills are valuable to potential employers; and 3) To guide you in choosing courses/extra-curricular activities/work assignments to support development of skills that are desired in quantum tech.

If you are an educator, this information might also be helpful in curriculum development.

With that out of the way, let’s see what everyone said!

Domain expertise

It’s valuable to have expertise in at least one domain.

Unsurprisingly, expertise in quantum physics, quantum computing and quantum information theory was high on the list.

“Expertise in quantum error correction and fault tolerance is critical, and becoming more important every day, to any company building a scalable quantum computer.”

“Understanding of “modern” fault tolerance (Mike and Ike + Toric code doesn’t cut it!).”

“Strong technical understanding of the main quantum algorithms and the ability to isolate and apply techniques used in them in other settings.”

“Most recent algorithm developments but taken through to compilation/gate counts, not just asymptotic complexity-theory type analyses.”

“Good knowledge of quantum computer architectures and the underlying physics, and the ability to apply this to model systems mathematically.”

Other examples of domains in which expertise/experience is desirable are:

  • Physics of specific quantum computing architectures, e.g. Superconducting circuits, Quantum optics (second quantization, light matter interaction…), Ion traps
  • Quantum physics theory applied to actual experiments
  • Broad knowledge of physics, from material science to classical electromagnetism
  • Foundational mathematics, e.g., Real/complex analysis, Linear algebra, Statistics, Calculus
  • Lab skills, e.g., General know-how of experimental physics, Electronics, Analog circuit design, Foundry process workflow experience, Wafer fabrication process technology, Measurement techniques (spectroscopy, etc), Working with dilution fridges, Microwave engineering, Debugging hardware
  • Machine learning
  • Quantum-inspired algorithms
  • Financial algorithms
  • High performance computing

Experience with existing quantum computers and relevant software was also mentioned:

  • “General certification and experience with D-Wave and IBM Q or other gate computers. Rigetti or Xanadu (would be interesting) Probably 1 year exposure and certification is enough.”
  • “Experience with qiskit is a massive plus.”


“Everyone needs to be excellent at coding.”

Python was very high on the list of languages one should know. C++ was next. Matlab, C, C#, and Java also came up. Knowledge of object oriented programming is desirable, as is experience with git, GitHub, virtual environments/docker.

For a role as a Senior Software Developer or Algorithm Developer, it’s desirable to have “extensive experience as a software developer” and a “proven record of building a high-quality complex software product from scratch.”

Even for quantum information experts, it’s desirable to have “experience as a software or algorithms developer, with the ability to write clean, high-quality code.”

“Our folks need to be able to experiment quickly using python (mostly) and have an understanding of the existing quantum “software development” environments.”

“Computer programming: The software will ultimately need to be executed by computers, and so one needs an understanding of how computers work.”

“If someone is a theorist: They need to know numerical methods, sparse matrix solvers, very very well. I also expect them to know C++ and Python very well. Quite often I come across theorists who only know how to use mathematica. This is not useful at all in an industrial setting.” “We also expect all our experimental physicists to be fluent in at least C++ and Python.”

It’s also desirable to know how to do “collaborative” software development. “Isolated coding geniuses are not as useful as people who can work with others to build a large codebase.”

Also desirable is an “understanding of programming and software development tools” and “some knowledge of current practices in the computer industry”, such as “agile development.”

Communication (especially with with people from different backgrounds)

This was a big one! The words “communication” and “communicate” came up 14 times in total.

“…the ability to communicate with people from different backgrounds. An organization gathers people with different backgrounds, all essential, and they all have different vocabulary and methods. For instance, a researcher will talk about his project with another researcher in a certain way. However, asking his boss (let’s say an accountant working as finance director) for the funding for this project is very different, for its main concerns are the cashflow and the funding source. Talking about the project to the CEO requires to align the project with the company’s objectives. The same apply for marketing, sales, operations, etc. Someone that can adapt its speech depending on the interlocutor will shatter the barriers between the different departments and will likely contribute for an organization’s success.”

“The ability to clearly and accurately communicate technical material in both technical and non-technical settings.”

“Able to communicate complex ideas clearly both verbally, visually, in writing and in code.”

“Great communication skills, being able to share complex ideas with a team of people who might have different backgrounds.”

“Did I mention presentation/communication skills?”

“Grant & patent writing.”

“It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you can’t express it to others, particularly others who are not in the same group/field.”

“Communication communication communication. Working productively in teams comprising the smartest people requires high-fidelity communication in the team. It is a superpower to be able to put thoughts clearly and succinctly into spoken or written words and to really listen and understand deeply what others are thinking.”


“The ability to work well in a team” and “being able to collaborate” are desirable.

“Interpersonal skills are the single most important attribute.”

“Cultural fit in terms of working with a team of very nice people, but one that may contain a couple of “quirky” people.”

“A team player with a positive attitude to life, someone who is great to be around.”

“A collaborative attitude, with a willingness to cooperate across disciplines (since quantum computing sits at the intersection of physics, CS, applied mathematics etc).”

“Maybe the most important issue is the ability to fit well with the team. For me that means that they would on the one hand get along with others, but on the other hand be sufficiently different to allow for diversity of opinions and approaches. I like people who can fight for the minority opinion and still remain friendly.”

Organization and time management

Another desirable skill is “good time management” to “deliver projects on time” and allow the “ability to take on projects at a short notice.”

“Time management and teamwork, where everyone is used to having clear formal way to split tasks and deliver. Which is again a different way to arrange your time and work then in academia.”

“There is always more work than you can accomplish, prioritizing what needs to be done when is essential.”

The ability to quickly turn ideas into products

“We need to build products.”

“Startups need to move very fast with a small number of people. Usually once there is funding to hire, there is some clear goal that needs to be achieved in order to raise the next round.”

“One big problem with academics is that we often go on tangents instead of focusing on a specific task. If something seems interesting, we try to learn more about it. That’s good when you’re exploring, but very bad when you need to get things done quickly. I would certainly look for the ability to take a complicated task and work on it from start to finish with a clear plan, timeline, deliverables etc.”

“The ability to quickly turn ideas into good-quality code is something of an asset across theory, experiment and software teams. This helps check ideas quickly, work well together and push projects out of the door.”

“The top tech skill in my view, lacking, is ability to do engineering and product development the way it’s done in industrial settings as opposed to academic problem solving. There’s a bigger chasm between the two quite often overlooked by smart people who have only academic experience.”

The ability and motivation to keep learning

“The ability to learn fast is key. Knowledge is learned, and nobody expects students to know everything when they finish their studies. So the faster they learn after their studies, the better it is.”

“High motivation to learn and dedication to work hard and solve challenges on a daily basis.”

“Passion and ability to learn a new domain with a deep mathematical core.”

“The key for the core team members is to expand one’s knowledge into domains one was not trained in, to adapt what one was taught to new usecases, and come up with unique solutions when the traditional way does not work. In the end this is the primary skill needed.”

The ability to work in an uncertain environment

Being able to “quickly adapt to new paradigms and solutions” and “dive into uncharted territory and surface with answers” are desirable skills for an area like quantum tech.

“The goal is not always clear and it is sometimes hard to experience barriers while not knowing where you are heading. In this context you need to be able to work with a lot of uncertainties.”

“New technology is competitive and quickly changing, with ideas and companies appearing and disappearing all the time. Things often don’t go the way you predict and solutions must be improvised, particularly if one works at a startup.”


Demonstrating “own initiative and leadership” is desirable.

“Ability and ambition to take responsibility and lead teams/technical solutions as we grow.”

“Early hires in a startup are (ideally) going to take on a leadership role at some point in the not distant future.”

“At this early stage I also want to see leadership. That can be manifested in different ways.”

“There is always the one person who has to be able to tie a lot of these disciplines together and ensure they can translate between disciplines, understand each area’s needs and keep projects moving.” This role “is the hardest to define, but there is no progress without it. It’s like the catalyst.”

Problem solving skills

“Strong problem solving & analytical skills.”

“Innovation and Creativity: These are hard problems that have never been solved before.”

“Can I give someone a problem, where they will understand the problem, figure out how to solve it and then come up with a solution.”

Life skills

“Active Management of Stress: Immovable objects meeting irresistible forces…. — its my favourite interview question.”

“Work/Life balance being a priority — it’s a marathon not a sprint.”

Personality traits

Apart from skills, several personality traits also came up.

“No fear of open dialogue / the creative process. Everything is being invented. Everyone is wrong sometimes. Courage to present ideas, and work them through is important.”

“Investment in the company’s success over one’s personal success. Nothing is more frustrating than someone who is detached, treating a job like a stepping stone.”

“Some tact and the ability to check your ego when interacting with customers.”

“If your team can teach/learn without ego then you are going places. In my experience PhDs are terrible at this — the system makes them this way — very protective of ideas, big ego, need ‘loving’”

“Adaptable, team player, creative.”

“It’s something of a mixture of smarts, grit and character.”

“Ability to work independently.”

“Curiosity and vision, daring to imagine how quantum tech might evolve and mature in the future, and prepare for it.

“Curiosity, Honesty, Ambition”

“Sense of humour!”

Bonus: how to demonstrate skills

Sometimes it’s not obvious how to demonstrate the skills that you have. One respondent addressed this very nicely, so I wanted to reproduce their reply in its entirety.

“Scientific curiosity and initiative: we want people capable of exploring things for which there’s no roadmap, that will figure things out without much guidance, will keep pushing outside their comfort zone and learning about new areas.

  • In CVs I look at the projects that they have been involved in: have they done extra-curricular research projects and summer internships? Is their research project exactly along the lines that their supervisors usually do research on? Do they have “hobby” scientific projects, like code repos on GitHub that are not directly related to their graduate work? Are their publications only on a small area?
  • During the interviews, I want to understand whether the drivers of projects were their collaborators or themselves. I want to understand whether they pursued projects because it was the easy next steps, or because they wanted to figure something .

Commitment to the big questions rather than the flashy results. This one is more difficult to articulate, but it comes down to this: the important questions we try to resolve need time, effort and collaboration, and “cute” or “flashy” results for some contrived situations do not generally work. There is a sustained level of effort required for long term projects, and we need people with mental stamina to follow through. Not only that, but also discipline to keep moving towards the goal and not get sidetracked.

If there was a piece of advice I’d give to students is that their extra-curricular activities say a lot about who they are, and many of those activities give pointers about their soft skills.

  • Team-sports / musical activities say things about their discipline and team work,
  • endurance sports and other long solo projects (like writing a book) say about their resilience and commitment to their endeavors,
  • positions of responsibility in student clubs / student council / non-profits say about their potential for management and leadership.

Those activities are not just pointers for recruiters, but they are opportunities they can use to develop soft skills they might feel they are lacking for the career they want. In particular…I would say that we are looking for their ability to work in a group that is scientifically challenging and diverse in personalities. The ability to adapt to such a working environment is something that can be improved at an individual level through experience.”

Want to share your thoughts? You can join the discussion on LinkedIn or Medium.