A Learning Journey to Quantum Computing

Study what you like, there is no reason to stop, internet access gives us a lot of freedom for it.

I studied BE Computer Engineering a few years ago and I dedicated myself to developing software since then, but I always wanted to learn more about astronomy and my first approaches were taking MOOCs, which helped me decide to study another career: BS Physics.

Studying Physics led me to take a course in Quantum Mechanics, that is when I thought: goodbye astronomy, hello quantum mechanics, I was amazed by this branch of physics. As a final work I had to investigate and make a presentation about quantum computing, from there I was more than fascinated with the subject.

Two worlds that I am passionate about are combined in a perfect way (Quantum and Computing), it was noticeably clear that this is what I wanted to pursue in my professional life: Quantum Computing and Quantum Information.

Unfortunately in my school there were no classes about it, I even looked for some professors, researchers at my university, to try to get me involved, however, I could notice that their participation with quantum computing or quantum information was minimal.

So, I searched for MOOCs to satisfy this growing curiosity, I found some and took them, for example:

My experience in these online courses was extremely interesting. Platforms such as Coursera or edX provide forums within each course, which allows you to have an approach with other people who have the same interest, at least because they are studying the same course as you, with whom you can debate and share ideas about the topics covered in the courses, and although this is the idea of these forums, it is not always the solution to clarify the doubts that arise, in that sense it is important to arm yourself with patience and do internet searches (thanks Google) to respond to our own doubts and fill in the gaps that we naturally have when we learn new things.

A great way to keep aware of events on a topic that interests you is to search for groups on social networks, which allow people with similar interests to share information, and these people should not even be physically located in the same city or country. Thanks to one of these groups, I found out about a course on quantum computing that would be taught in my city, I could not believe it! And it was free! I applied as soon as possible, they gave me the pleasant news of being selected and that is how I spent my summer vacations on that occasion, learning even more. The intention of the teacher, the organizer of the course, was altruistic, to give a free course to as many people as possible, this caused the class to lose dynamism, but it did not matter, it was excellent to learn more and realize that there were more people interested in QC.

Each course, although introductory, gave me new pieces of information that have helped me begin to put together a great puzzle that allows me to understand how quantum information and quantum computing works, but it was only a tiny taste of everything that this new technology involves, I wanted more.

I think I’ve been lucky, finding places to learn, just the semester after this summer course, a professor at my faculty decided to offer an elective course in quantum computing, yeah! my chance to review the topic more formally, mathematically speaking. This course was indeed more formal, and they taught us algorithms like Shor’s and Grover’s in more detail, checking the quantum state after each step, it was very enlightening. This course had not been given for several years, and it has not been given again, who knows when there will be a professor who will dare to give it in my faculty again.

What’s next? Well, more courses, in the following months, I had the opportunity to take more MOOCs, this time at MITxPRO:

These courses were amazing, some lectures with Peter Shor or Isaac Chuang, the lessons were very well selected, the mathematical detail was good, but not exhaustive, and the most enriching were the explanations about the current implementations of quantum computers, how qubits are physically accomplished, the many ways they are being experimented with to have coherent qubits for as long as possible. On the other hand, the explanation about the errors that inevitably occur in qubits, since for now the most powerful quantum computers are “noisy intermediate-scale quantum” (NISQ) devices and are extremely sensitive to errors. I had not thought about that! Of course, there are errors, that accumulate, and for which ways to correct them have been generated. Now I must think of algorithms that consider error correction.

Fortunately I was able to attend the summer school offered by the University of Waterloo: Undergraduate School on Experimental Quantum Information Processing (USEQIP), here I was able to see with my own eyes a quantum computer, and I was able to perform experiments that allowed me to understand even better some concepts such as the transmission of information with an entangled state, using a laser, a birefringent crystal and polarizers; among many other astounding things.

Then I took this online course in my native language, it worked as a review, and I was also able to convince a friend to take it with me, it helped me a lot to be able to share what I had learned previously. There is nothing like trying to explain something you learned to see how well you learned it.

My last experience in online courses has been the Qiskit Global Summer School, from where in addition to continuing to put together pieces for the great puzzle, I met many more people around the world who share this interest in the new branch of quantum computing and I hope to be part of the many communities that emerged from there to continue learning and eventually share my own knowledge.

The next online course that I have planned to follow, and that is about to start, in case you are interested, is one called Quantum Formalism, which is free, here more details.

Sure, my path has only just begun, I just finished my studies in Physics, and I plan to continue with a degree in Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, because of course, I loved the place, the people and the Institute for Quantum Computing IQC.

It only remains for me to mention that learning with the help of MOOCs is excellent, it allows you to delve into a topic, and go deeper as you wish, breaks the limitations of the region where you are, no matter if you can study what sparks your interest during the day, night, weekends, you decide, it’s a lot of freedom. It also allows you to learn from different perspectives, teachers from different places in the world, who focus on different things, who choose different words to express an idea, it is incredibly educational.

MOOCs are one of the best resources that exist today to learn, take advantage of them!

Claudia Zendejas-Morales

Medium: @clauziuz

Twitter: @clausia