Well, I did my undergraduate at the University of Virginia 20 years ago in physics and computer science. I loved physics. I wanted to do a PhD in that, but then I got engaged to my wife. Computers were much more commercially viable at that point, and I needed to support a family, so I went into computers. I’ve loved computers all my life. I wouldn’t say I forgot about physics, but it went on the back burner. I did software development — C#, Java, all that good stuff.
Then, when I joined Microsoft about four years ago, they had just released Q#, our quantum programming language. I asked my manager — I was onboarding, and I didn’t have any clients at the time — and I said, “With this free time I’ve got, can I study quantum computing? Can I look into Q#?” and I expected him to say, “No, we have no customers doing that. Why would you even look into that?” but he was nice enough to say, “Go for it. Why not?” So, I started looking into it.
We have an internal conference here at Microsoft called Ready. and I wanted to go. My manager said, “No, we don’t have the budget,” that kind of thing. I knew the only way to go for me was to speak. I had two options: I could do one on Team Foundation Server, which was my major technology, but I figured there’d be tons of applicants on that. I said, “Or I could just do this totally-out-there session on quantum computing,” because I figured there’s not going to be much competition on that one. I did, and then I got accepted. Then I was, like, “I got to know this stuff. I can’t just get up there in front of hundreds of people and talk about something that I don’t know well.” So that forced me to start to look at it and study it.
The first thing that I came across when I got into quantum computing was math. There was so much linear algebra. I remember looking at the vectors, and I was, like, “Yes, got that. Remember that from linear algebra. Matrices, eh, it’s been a little while. But then it got into tensor products, and I was just, like, “No, I don’t remember any of that.” It had been at least 20 years since I’ve taken linear algebra and calculus and stuff like that.
So, I did my presentation. It went well. Of course, one of the best ways to learn something is to try to teach other people about it. I just kept on studying the math and going through that, and had an experience where eventually, over time, I went back to community college and retook some of the math classes.
It’s funny: The second time around, you’re not going for the grade — you’re going for understanding, so it’s been interesting doing that. I got the offer — I started blog posting about quantum computing, and then the publisher saw some of my blog posts and asked me to write the book, which was awesome. That then generated a job here at Microsoft at quantum computing. It felt like a career change, going from strictly software development and IT to quantum computing.
I’ve been on my current job almost three months, and I enjoyed working with the Azure Quantum Team and learning about our products and all the different hardware devices, from superconnecting qubits to ion traps. We support Qiskit and SRQ and Q#. It’s been a great job right now, and it’s been a great journey. It’s funny — I’ve always waited for the passion to turn off, and say, “I’m not willing to do all this math homework” and stuff like that, but it hasn’t. As long as the passion is still there for me, I’m going to keep on going.