A study released last week by Zapata Computing showed that almost 70% of enterprises are adopting or planning to adopt quantum computing, and that 28% are committing to budget of more than $1 million for their pursuits.
In corporate enterprises across many different sectors, much of the money likely is being set aside to hire talent with quantum-specific or quantum-adjacent education, skill and experience. However, the labor shortage affecting just about every industry means that talent will be hard to come by.
Quantum software companies are racing to fill that need. Yuval Boger, CMO of software firm Classiq, recently told Fierce Electronics that some forecasts have shown that there could be a demand for as many as 10,000 quantum-related jobs by 2025, but not enough quantum-skilled workers to fill even half those jobs.
“Where software comes in is that today to write quantum code you have to understand the underlying engine you are dealing with, so when you try to write code that simulates a molecule you have to understand both chemistry and quantum physics,” Boger said. “If you think quantum engineers are hard to find, then try to find those people who understand both areas. They're like unicorns, they don't exist.”
Steve Reinhardt, vice president of product management at Quantum Computing Inc., another software firm, added, “There aren't a lot of software products that are actually in the market that you can just log in and use. I think it's more common that there is software… intended not really for end users but more for consulting-level users.”
That means even as software firms develop suites that help users in different industries achieve high performance on their projects in what is still a hybrid classical-quantum computing environment, they need to make ease of use a high priority.
“With quantum software, we’re taking care of the engine underneath to translate into something that actually works for people working in different disciplines,” Boger said, adding that firms like Classiq need to work closely with experts in various industries to augment its software with modules or libraries that address the very articular requirements of one industry’s quantum needs. “We can take care of a lot of the common stuff, but then we might collaborate with very expert chemists to say, ‘Well, what do you really need for your quantum chemistry problem?’ And then we’ll create an add-on library and additional functions to address those needs.”
Overall, a goal for quantum software firms is to help enterprises avoid having to rewrite large amounts of software code on their own to address their particular use cases. That can be challenging in a quantum computing environment that is not only hybrid classical-quantum, but also one in one quantum processor may be better suited than another for a particular problem class–quantum simulation, mathematical constrained optimization problems or machine learning, for example.
“It’s hard to know if something like trapped ion [quantum computers] or something else could become dominant,” Reinhardt said. “Part of what we see as the value of higher level software is the ability for a user to say, ‘I have a project – a logistics problem just to pick one - I don't really know quantum computers. I don't know whether an Ion Q processor is better for this than a D-Wave or Rigetti processor or whoever your favorite vendor is.’ And, and they're going to want to say, ‘I've expressed it to you in a way that enables it to run on a quantum computer or on a classical quantum hybrid simulator, so please run it on this list of QPUs [quantum processing units] and see where it runs fastest.”
For this reason, software firms could develop their own areas of expertise along similar lines, some more focused on software for addressing a particular problem class. That means it’s unlikely that one of the emerging throngs of quantum software firms eventually will become dominant across all industry use cases and problem classes. “I mean, it’s conceivable, but that seems like a stretch,” Reinhardt said.
Solving quantum problems for enterprises lacking access to enough quantum-skilled workers means quantum software companies need to make sure they have enough of their own quantum talent. “We do have to be intentional about finding good quantum-knowledgeable people, and it’s not easy,” Reinhardt said. “We try a variety of approaches, including growing our own. We find that much development is adjacent to quantum computing specifically, so extremely strong math and computer science backgrounds are an excellent basis for those.”