The Women of QuArC

Mariia Mykhailova

International Women’s Day is a day* to celebrate the women in our life. That includes the amazing women in our group** who, among other things, work to shape the Quantum Development Kit and to bring you these awesome tools for quantum programming. Without further ado, allow me to introduce them to you – in their own words.

*Traditionally it is celebrated on March 8th, but a belated celebration is better than none 😊

**In case you were wondering, our group is properly called the “Quantum Architectures and Computation” group, but that was a bit too long for the title 😊

Krysta Svore, general manager

Q: Tell us more about your role in QuArC. What exciting things are you working on right now?I am the General Manager of Quantum Software and lead the QuArC team. Our team is developing the quantum applications that will enable solutions to some of today’s most challenging problems and writing the software that will enable programming those solutions on the quantum hardware. I am excited to have just co-taught with other members of QuArC an undergraduate course at the University of Washington on quantum algorithms and quantum programming in Q#, the first of its kind in the CSE department. It is so exciting to see more and more computer scientists, developers, engineers, and quantum enthusiasts learning about quantum computing!

We also just launched the Northwest Quantum Nexus in partnership with the University of Washington and Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, to advance quantum information and computing in the greater northwest region. It is through growing a broader quantum community that we will discover even more incredible applications of this revolutionary technology. I am also excited to work with such an amazing group of people on a technology that has inspired me for over twenty years.

Q: What was it that first attracted you to the technology field?

When I was young, I was fascinated by puzzles and mathematical challenges. I loved solving math problems while also answering scientific questions. As an undergraduate, I pursued mathematics, and it was not until my junior year of college that I took a course in computer science. Immediately I was hooked; it was a field where I could use my math skills while able to perform computational experiments. Programming felt like the perfect way to go about solving a puzzle, and algorithms served as a great theoretical outlet. My deepening computing interest led me to pursue a PhD in theoretical computer science with a focus on how to make a quantum computer fault tolerant and programmable.

Q: How and why did you decide to join the domain of quantum computing?

It was also during my junior year of college when I learned about this amazing model of computation that could break most public-key cryptosystems. I was taking a seminar on cryptography from Professor Andrew Wiles (who solved Fermat’s Last Theorem) when I was exposed for the first time to quantum computing, and to Shor’s algorithm for factorization. I was completely fascinated that there was another model of computation that enabled factoring to be solved efficiently. I began reading as much as I could on the subject and the following year decided to pursue it as my focus area during my PhD. With an interest in both math and computer science, I spent my PhD researching how to program a quantum computer and how to error correct it. I saw an opportunity to develop methods for taking a quantum algorithm, such as Shor’s algorithm, and enabling a programmer to specify it and then map it to quantum hardware. Twenty years later, our QuArC team at Microsoft is defining how to program a quantum computer and the ground-breaking applications to run on it. Quantum computing is a lifelong passion for me; it also unveils the most fun, challenging problems to work on each day!

Bettina Heim, software engineer

Q: Tell us more about your role in QuArC. What exciting things are you working on right now?I am driving the Q# language design and compiler architecture. Right now, I am working towards getting to a 1.0 version of both the language and compiler. There is a long list of things that would be awesome to do, and I would love to make them available to the public. We are also working on providing a platform for the developer community around Q# where we hope to be able to share our excitement, progress and struggles such that we can grow and evolve this fascinating new technology together.

Q: What was it that first attracted you to the technology field?

I don’t think there was anything in particular that compelled me to pursue my current line of work. I love puzzles and I love the challenge, so my career choice has mostly been driven by where I felt I can grow the most, and of course also a little by where I can help to make other people’s lives easier. I like to think about concepts and abstractions, how to model complex systems and what the limitations are of that model. At the same time, I like “hands on” engineering work – I like building things and pushing the boundaries of what is possible today.

Q: How and why did you decide to join the domain of quantum computing?

I majored in physics and never really liked relativity, so naturally I ended up pursuing a degree focused on quantum mechanics. I came across a book on quantum computing very early in my undergraduate studies and was immediately fascinated. I had some concerns regarding the feasibility at that time and thus initially focused on more conventional areas around optimization and high-performance computing. When I got to know the people in QuArC I couldn’t help but give in to the temptation of working alongside such an inspiring set of people to figure out how to make large-scale quantum computing a reality.

Mariia Mykhailova, software engineer

Q: Tell us more about your role in QuArC. What exciting things are you working on right now?I had an opportunity to contribute to many different aspects of our developer tools, from the internals of our pre-Q# prototype to syntax highlight and Visual Studio integration for the 0.1 release of Q# to our documentation. In the past year I’ve gradually gravitated to the education and outreach work. Quantum computing is an exciting topic, and there are lots of people enthusiastic about learning it, but it has a reputation of being very hard to get started with. I’m focusing on making it more accessible and coming up with new ways of helping people learn quantum programming.

Some of the projects I worked on in the last year include the Quantum Katas (self-paced tutorials on quantum computing and Q#), Q# coding contests, the quantum computing course at the University of Washington mentioned by Krysta, and the Q# Advent Calendar. I would be hard-pressed to pick the most exciting of them!

Q: What was it that first attracted you to the technology field?

I’m a software developer in third generation. My grandmother was one of the first computer science majors in Ukraine (well, in the part of Soviet Union that is now Ukraine). My mother followed in her steps, albeit with more modern technology, and I just always felt that’s what I would do for living. In fact, I don’t recall ever considering a different vocation.

Q: How and why did you decide to join the domain of quantum computing?

I had a very brief encounter with quantum computing as part of a quantum physics course back in university, but at that point it did not look like something one can do for a living. I graduated with a master’s degree in applied math and went on to work in finance industry, writing software for banks. Several years later I moved to US and joined Microsoft to work on cloud infrastructure.

Four years later, I felt I was ready to embark on my next adventure. Fortuitously, QuArC was hiring software engineers to develop programming tools for quantum computing (no PhD required).

As for “why?”, I’ve always loved science fiction, and quantum computing is practically the definition of science fiction, except it’s happening here and now!

Cathy Palmer, program manager

Q: Tell us more about your role in QuArC. What exciting things are you working on right now?I’m the program manager for the Quantum Development Kit. Right now, I’m working with the team to enable new capabilities to support Python as the host language for Q# and support Jupyter Notebooks. These will be great tools to help users learn how to program with Q# and help researchers publish their work with Q#. I’m also working with our quantum researchers to bring new libraries to the Quantum Development Kit, such as the chemistry library. Finally, I work closely with our new Microsoft Quantum Network partners to bring to the Quantum Development Kit those capabilities that they are looking for in developing their quantum solutions.

Q: What was it that first attracted you to the technology field?

I didn’t know much about computer science, but I liked math, and my sister was a computer science major in college, so I chose that major too. It was a great choice for me. Over my career, I have been a part of so many challenging teams in high performance computing, research and big data. In 2016, GeekWire published a profile of several of my fellow Ph.D. women colleagues and me and our journeys through the tech world.

Q: How and why did you decide to join the domain of quantum computing?

One of the great things about Microsoft is the ability to try out new areas and take on new challenges. Quantum computing is a fantastic opportunity for me to grow in a new area of computing, but it is also an opportunity for me to bring those skills I learned in my prior roles to this team. I get to work with a great team of passionate engineers and researchers who are all working together to build the quantum computer. I didn’t realize when I joined the quantum team that I would also be working alongside some of the same people I worked with before I joined Microsoft 13 years ago. But I keep running into former colleagues in the hallway who are now hardware engineers working on building the quantum computer at Microsoft. I also didn’t realize when I joined the quantum team that I would be working with some of the same customers that I worked with on the Microsoft high performance team years ago, but these same customers are now looking at quantum computing to solve their most challenging problems.

Julie Love, business development director

Q: Tell us more about your role in QuArC. What exciting things are you working on right now?I lead business development for Microsoft Quantum. We are working with customers and startups across sectors including energy, materials development, automotive, financial services, healthcare and more through the Microsoft Quantum Network, a program that we built to bring experts across domains together to solve real problems and make quantum computing more accessible.

We bring bleeding-edge advancements in quantum computing together with the incredible work our customers and partners are doing to push the boundaries of what’s possible. For example, we are working with Case Western Reserve University to improve the diagnostic capability of MRIs. The work we are doing together has the potential to transform diagnostic medicine and ultimately change lives.

Q: What was it that first attracted you to the technology field?

I have always loved building things and solving tough problems. I taught myself programming in early high school and loved how it enabled me to create new things with very few resources. When I took my first physics classes, I was hooked on the idea that we could understand fundamental things about how the world works. The work I did as an experimental physicist brought these passions together. As an undergrad, I designed and built particle detectors including work on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a detector currently mounted on the International Space Station searching for antimatter and dark matter. In my Ph.D., I designed and built experiments to understand fundamental quantum effects in nanoscale quantum circuits and had the opportunity to work alongside pioneers in quantum computing.

I’ve pursued a variety of different roles in tech across hardware and software, on the technical side and on the business side. Now in the Microsoft Quantum group, I get to combine my skills and passions to work on tough problems with incredibly smart people aligned on the common mission of bringing this technology to life.

Q: How and why did you decide to join the domain of quantum computing?

I’ve been fascinated by quantum physics since I first learned about it in high school. As an undergrad, I devoured every course that MIT offered in quantum physics. When they first offered a quantum computing class in the graduate school, I jumped at the chance to combine two of my passions. What excited me when I first discovered quantum computing and what drives the work I’m doing today is the possibility of unlocking solutions to problems that will help us transform the world. We will be able to take on societal level challenges like climate change, sustainability, world hunger, and much more in a tangible way.

Khyati Vyas, program manager

Q: Tell us more about your role in QuArC. What exciting things are you working on right now?I am the program manager for the Qubit Workbench. This is an internal operations tool for the academics to use in order to enable a productive workflow, one that eliminates as many manual steps as possible in a researchers day to day efforts for topological qubit discovery.

Q: What was it that first attracted you to the technology field?

I come from a mathematics background and have always loved the precision that math brings to problem solving. To me it’s the early days of data driven decision making – obviously, a huge industry term in technology today. I stumbled upon computer science when picking a bachelors. At the time I did not feel that a degree in mathematics would be very lucrative; I come from a working class background and was viewed as a “foreigner” growing up, so money was very tight to say the least. I chose computer science because there had to be money in that, and money would buy me freedom.

Once I started computer science, I was all in! I loved the mathematics behind it, I loved problem solving, writing code and being part of something that was going to change the world. This of course was before the internet, and when the internet became “real” I knew that this a field I would flourish in and continue to be a part of innovations of the future.

I care about people, the planet, animals and believe in alchemy and my part in technology is to improve lives. At the same understanding the “dark” side of technology is important for me, especially now that I have children, I know I want to stay in touch with how the youth are interacting with technology so that I am best equipped to support my family and exercise good judgement in parenting.

Q: How and why did you decide to join the domain of quantum computing?

I have been shipping software for twenty years now. I enjoy it, but I came to a point where after a while shipping the software was not enough. Now, being a big Stephen Hawking fan of course, quantum physics has always fascinated me. I am a sci-fi fan too and read most of the classics, H.G. Wells, Douglas Adams, Arthur C Clarke and even George Orwell. Just thinking about how those great minds saw the future nearly a century ago blows my mind. Then reading about Quantum and having the opportunity to be a part of it was enough for me to join the team. In my role today on the Quantum team, I find that I bring my software skills to the table, and the intellectual stimulation I receive in return just by being around brilliant scientists and learning every day is really second to none. I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity.


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