IEEE Quantum Podcast Series: Episode 4
A Conversation with Terrill Frantz
Lead, Next Generation Technologies / Quantum Information Science master-degree program, Associate Professor of eBusiness and Cybersecurity, Harrisburg University
Listen to Episode 4 (MP3, 52 MB)
Part of the IEEE Quantum Podcast Series
Brian Walker: Welcome to the IEEE Quantum Podcast series, an IEEE Future Directions Digital Studio Production. This podcast series informs on the landscape of the quantum ecosystem and highlights projects and activities on quantum technology. This episode features Terrill Frantz from Harrisburg University discussing the importance of education and workforce development as it pertains to advancing quantum technology. Professor Frantz discusses the challenges universities face in launching and promoting quantum-based curriculum. The development of a quantum vocabulary for socializing concepts and initiatives and how online events can help drive further interest and activities for those individuals wanting to explore the quantum ecosystem.
Terrill, thank you for taking some time to contribute to the IEEE Podcast Series. Can you share how you became specialized in workforce development for quantum technology?
Terrill Frantz: Well, I started out in cybersecurity around two years ago, when I returned to the United States. Quantum computing, through Shor's algorithm, found me in the cybersecurity space. The way that Shor's algorithm can potentially break RSA encryption, I fell into asking questions about that: How could that be? Etcetera. And it really found me. Then I decided when I looked at all the potential that quantum computing has and the fact that it's a relatively new field, at least in this day and age-- it's actually-- quantum is a hundred years old-- I really found it quite fascinating and interesting. So personally, I moved away from classical computing, which I've been doing for 46 years and cybersecurity, into the quantum field somewhere around 18- 19 months ago.
When I was starting to pivot over into quantum, essentially, I did a SWOT analysis, something you'll learn in business school, where you sit back and assess your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. I looked at what I was good at, what I like to do, and I looked at what our university is good at and what we're oriented towards. Quantum computing really fit the mold in particular when it comes to workforce development in quantum computing. It really yelled out for our strengths and doesn't require our weaknesses, per se. So, really, through a SWOT analysis, I concluded that quantum workforce development is something that we can do at Harrisburg and something I can accomplish, and actually contribute to in a shorter period of time without having an extensive background in physics or deep mathematics, etcetera. Secondly, after doing the SWOT analysis, personally, I have a bias, or a preference towards, the blue ocean strategy. This is another business school term that's, essentially, when you look at all the opportunities there are in a given landscape, in a business landscape, you go where the blue water is-- in other words, where other boats are already not fishing, if you want to think of it like that. And 20 months ago, there were actually very few universities and people really focused in on workforce development, specifically. Also, in attending quantum conferences it was the number-three issue that came up time and time again for that first year of going to conferences. People were referring to, even the hardcore physics folks and the engineers-- everyone was referring to the potential workforce supply deficiency that may pop up, may come up in the coming years. So, it was really by looking at our strengths and weaknesses and looking at where other universities and other people are not really focused. So here we are, focusing in on the workforce development in quantum computing.
Brian Walker: So, how does education play a role and what's the current landscape for learning at various stages in students' lives?
Terrill Frantz: Well, over the past year or so, the industry, and both individuals as well as the White House here in the United States, has really started to shift attention to the high school students, the pre-college students. And, right now, there are a lot of people doing a lot of work in figuring out how to train pre-college students. At Harrisburg, we are-- tomorrow is our last day of 10 weeks of quantum computing training. We call it the Quantum Computing Academy, where we have an 11-year-old student learning about quantum computing. So, basically, the current landscape in education is putting a lot of time, money, and attention towards training the pre-college student in the hopes of them developing the cognitive skills to look at problems from the perspective of how a quantum computer could solve a problem versus how a classical computer could solve a problem.
Another area that is rapidly developing when it comes to education is a lot of attention is being put towards master's degrees. Right now, that's one of my projects underneath this workforce development umbrella that I focus on: I'm accumulating all the information on master-degree level programs that have to do with the quantum technologies. In that research I've been doing there over the past two or three years, there have been easily eight or nine new programs. Looking forward over the next two or three years, you could easily see maybe even upwards of 15 new master programs globally in the quantum technologies. So, you know, education is really important here. This is a very difficult subject. It's very difficult because it has many aspects to it. There's some physics components. There's certainly a great deal of mathematics and algorithmic thinking involved in it. So, this is not something like classical computing, where you could learn-- a motivated person could learn how to program in Python in a few days, frankly. Quantum computing actually takes a much longer time to really get into the mode that you need to be in to be able to write these algorithms.
Brian Walker: How are universities investing in quantum curriculums and what are some of the challenges they face?
Terrill Frantz: Universities are starting to get on board. Harrisburg, itself, we've completed all the administrative parts for our master's degree program in January of 2020. There are many other universities coming online with master's programs in particular. Part of that is being catalyzed by government investments, particularly in the United States, where the National Science Foundation and the White House Office of Technology are putting dollars towards developing master's programs as well as other programs at other levels. There is increasingly more and more activity in Australia: The first quantum computing undergraduate degree was recently announced a few months back. Some of the challenges that I see in my own experience of setting up both pre-college, undergraduate, master's, as well as PhD-level programs, and courses in quantum computing is that a lot of the administrators really don't know much about quantum computing and have really no exposure to it. So, the biggest challenge I think that I have as well as other professors, again, as I talk to them, is that the administrations, the university administrations, really don't get quantum computing just yet. It's still-- even the most optimistic people who project when we'll have a really useful quantum computer, you know, we're looking five- ten years out on an optimistic note. So, the administrators see this time horizon being a little bit further than they're accustomed to when you put a master's degree program together. For example, the provost or the president of a university will want to see students in seats almost immediately. And the market for the number of students interested in quantum computing is still very small. So, the challenge is to get the administration to have a long-term vision on quantum technology courses and programs and particular programs. So, at Harrisburg, what I was able to do was to really get the approvals, because I was making the argument that it takes several years to build up quality courses, good curriculums, professors need to be brought up to speed on how to teach this material, etcetera. So, it could take five- eight years to get a really good program put together. So, the biggest challenge is this lag time it will take to get students in seats when it comes to quantum programs. And administrators, of course, they want students in seats tomorrow.
Brian Walker: As quantum is in its infancy, what advice can you offer to professors who might be interested in rolling out a quantum program at their university?
Terrill Frantz: In my view, the best advice or tip I could give to any professor or even a student, for that matter, or perhaps a dean, is really just do it. Just get started. Don't expect an easy path to getting a program set up, even a course, putting a course together and getting it approved could be a big ask. I-- personally, professionally, I have a bias towards action and, so, my suggestion would be start the process, start doing it, start laying the groundwork in however you work administratively, whatever your skills are, your sales capability, your salesman capability. Just start doing it and start moving the needle bit by bit, but don't expect it to be an easy path. I think that would be true in practically any university. And learn from it and don't take no for an answer. That's pretty much what I'm trying to do at Harrisburg. It's actually quite difficult to get your programs accepted by a lot of the administrators, again, because they really don't understand what quantum computing is, they don't get it, they don't see the potential in it. And if they do see the potential, they see it so far away. My advice to anybody would just-- you know, have a vision, and just start working on it, and don't get too disappointed when you start running into those roadblocks. The good news is there are a lot of other people doing just what you are. You're not the only one with this idea and that's a good thing.
Gradually, what's happening is that resources are starting to become available to you. Now, you know, those resources won't get you to convince your provost or your president to-- or your board of trustees to allow you to set up an entire program, but there are assets becoming available. Allow me to give an example: I just started rolling out recently a website called "MasterDegree.TryQuantum.org" and this is a website where I put the data that I've collected on all the master programs, globally, into one place. I list out the degrees, I list out the universities and pointers to more information in these universities, the various programs out there. And, so, when you need to do your inevitable competitive analysis, all of that work is done for you. And, believe me, it takes several months to get this information. But it will be maintained on a regular basis. So, when you need to get to the point and you need to do a competitive analysis, explain what the landscape is out there in particular for master's degrees, there's one place to go with all that information. And, so, that's one thing that could be helpful.
The other is you have resources. Like IEEE, for example, you know, is developing the quantum education web pages and websites, etcetera. And in some of those sites, inside some of those pages, there'll be material that you can utilize to help develop your pitch or your business case for your program. IBM and Microsoft all have syllabi out there as well as numerous other professors from around the world. So, the point I'm making is while it's not entirely all put in one place, there's a good amount of information accumulating so that when you do start to go down the path of developing a program, the data-- the raw data is available to you. And that will save you a great deal of time in an inevitable step, which is putting together your business case for a program. Other than that, you know, all of these program leads for these master's degree programs that I speak of, I've talked to each one of them individually and they're all more than willing to talk to others, if they could be of help in any way. It's not a problem to reach out to these other program leads.
Brian Walker: There's been some confusion around quantum technology. How are the various components in the ecosystem being defined? Is there a common terminology being developed?
Terrill Frantz: When it comes to workforce development in the quantum ecosystem, I just recently started to roll out some terminology or what I call skills-readiness classifications. What I've experienced in the past year and a half of putting on events, both educational as well as just regular research speakers, etcetera, in this COVID-19 environment-- I've been putting together-- Oh, I must be up to 50 events right now. And what I've found was that when it comes to non-traditional education, or informal education, individuals fall into anywhere from five or six categories. And, so, I've developed a naming classification system to help me develop these events and, so, it's really a workforce skills readiness classification topology that I've created.
For example, we put together some programs, some events, some speakers for what I call the quantum curious. And that's the term I use for individuals who are just asking the very basic, the very first question that someone in the grassroots community would ask and that is they're trying to answer, "What is this quantum computing? What is this?" I don't know anything about it. Tell me more." And, so, I call them-- we refer to them as the quantum curious. And then there's another classification, which is a step up if I can, called the quantum explorer. And this is a person who-- "Okay, I think this quantum thing is kind of interesting and I'd like to learn a bit more. I don't want to go all-in with my time and energy, but I do want to explore a bit more." And this is where the individual might be asking, "What is a QET? What is a BRA?" Etcetera. Another-- the next step after that is what I call the quantum climber. And this is where-- this is the stage where the individual says, "Hey, I think this is great. I'm going to start climbing the mountain," if can refer to it that way, "I'm going to start to do a deep dive into this quantum computing. And I want to start to get to know some of the details." I'd be asking a question, "What is a controlled Z, 90-degree rotation? What is this gate? What is that gate?" Etcetera. And I call that the quantum climber. So, they've decided, "Hey, I'm going to do this." The next classification is what I call the quantum enabled. And these are the folks who, basically, really understand the syntax, they can use the IBM QISKIT environment. They can use Microsoft Q# among others. So, they're familiar with the syntax, etcetera, how to work with the quantum computers, but they're asking the more difficult questions, the higher level questions about Shor's algorithm, for example. "Why is modular arithmetic used in Shor's algorithm?" So, they've gone beyond the basic syntax and they're going in a much higher-- cognitively higher questions. Next is the quantum ready stage. And this is where the individual has really-- they understand how to write computer-- quantum circuits, they understand what Shor's algorithm is and how it works, and now they start asking the question, "Okay, how do my circuits-- how do I deal with making my algorithms robust to the notorious error problem, the noise in quantum computers?" And the final stage is what I call the quantum professional and that's really someone who has really reached the top of the pyramid and is really focused in. "Okay, I've got all this knowledge, I've got this skill, how do I start to monetize it?"
This is a new typology that I'm starting to socialize. It's going from the quantum curious, quantum explorer, quantum climber, to the quantum enabled, to quantum ready, and, finally, the quantum profession. And the reason for this is so we can identify where an individual might be at a particular point in time, and develop events, programs, educations, etcetera, for that particular individual. Because what is a big problem in the industry right now is you have a quantum curious individual-- someone who wants to know "What is quantum computing?" attending an online event that is meant for the quantum enabled individual. And the quantum curious just gets blown away by the complexity of it all. We lose a potential advocate for quantum computing because they easily get frustrated because of the depth of that sort of talk. So, this is an example of some of the terms and vocabulary we're starting to generate as we really develop the processes and activities in the quantum workforce development area.
Brian Walker: So, what resources are available for students or individuals wanting to learn more about quantum technologies?
Terrill Frantz: Yes, sure. You know, it's really impressive. There are a lot of resources out there that are available for free, and some for a small fee, for individuals that want to learn about quantum. And it's not an easy path, because right now things are still very, I guess, ad hoc or less organized than they need to be. So, it's not a smooth path yet. But if you want to climb the mountain, if I may, first of all, you know, there are lots of these free online events that I mentioned. And the go-to site there is the QuantumPalooza.com website, which lists out the events going on for free around the world having to do with quantum, quantum computing, and the other quantum technologies. In fact, there happen to be on average 3.6 events a day. So, the first step I would say is I would highly encourage people to go to the QuantumPalooza.com site and when you have a free hour or two, find out what event is happening at your time. They're going on round the clock. And just sign up and participate in that event.
The second thing would be, of course, YouTube has a lot of material out there. Again, it's not as organized as we'd like right now, but certainly take advantage of the YouTube videos out there. You also have lots of learning materials from the large companies like IBM, Microsoft, among others. So, there's quite a bit of online material that you can go to that includes things like Jupiter Notebooks and that sort of thing. Get involved in a conference or two. Maybe set a goal of going physically-- hopefully, after post-COVID, you can physically go to a conference. If not, in the meantime, just go to a virtual conference-- participate in that. IEEE, for example, has the Quantum Week. Spend a few dollars to participate. Sign up and participate in these conferences, because a lot of the learning you'll get, I've found for me, anyway, was talking to people in the hallway, and, in particular, when you go to these conferences at the breakfast table at the conference. So, right now is an optimal time to be going to conferences like the IEEE Quantum Week, because your total costs are down. You don't have the travel expenses. So, take advantage of that.
I guess the overall answer to the question is that there are lots and lots of free or low-cost ways of learning about quantum computing. I think now is the time to engage and get involved in it and start the journey of learning what quantum computing is and how to participate in the ecosystem. It's a really exciting area to be and it's one of those things that is unlikely it's going to be a fad. This is something that will continue on for decades. So, any bit of learning that you do today, be it attending a Quantum Palooza events, going to conferences like the IEEE Quantum Week, or just sitting down and working through several books, now's the time to get involved. There are plenty of resources out there. What it really takes though, if I can really make the final point, is that this is a difficult mountain. This technology is a difficult mountain to climb. It takes a lot of persistence, a lot of false turns, wrong turns, etcetera, but it is very, very interesting and, as long as you are the type of person who can work on a problem and persist, it really provides a lot of satisfaction as you find your way through this. I'm only a year and a half in. I've got several more years of hard work to do, but there are plenty of resources out there for me to learn from.
Brian Walker: Thank you for listening to our interview with Terrill Frantz. Learn more about the IEEE Quantum Initiative by visiting our web portal at quantum.ieee.org.