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The quantum skill set

A mix of disciplines is needed in quantum computing

Quantum computing is one of today’s most exciting emerging technologies. In this article, Nadine van Son and Camille de Valk – experts at Capgemini’s Quantum Lab – reflect on the background, skills, and passions that drive a successful career in quantum.

If someone told you they worked in quantum computing, you might assume they were a math genius or technology wizard.

But the reality is more subtle, more uncertain… more quantum.

Nadine van Son has worked with Capgemini for three and a half years in the financial services team, mostly as an innovation consultant. She’s also the financial services lead for Quantum Lab – the “virtual” team working across all Capgemini regions and business units. With an MSc in innovation management, Nadine finds inspiration in combining technological developments, trends, and insights from history, psychology, and physics to see how these affect business and society.

“We spend our time exploring quantum technology and asking what applications might emerge from it,” she explains. “I act as a bridge between the technical team and our clients, helping to identify business opportunities.”

Nadine works closely with Camille de Valk, a consultant in quantum computing, who is based in the Utrecht office. “I spend much of my time researching quantum algorithms and new scientific papers, and finding out what universities and businesses are doing in this space,” he says.

Different backgrounds, same passion

Although Nadine and Camille took different routes into the quantum sector, they share a deep enthusiasm for the subject.

Camille studied physics and astronomy at university, where he first encountered the topic of quantum computing. Since then, his research in theoretical physics and business has led him to contribute to academic papers and give talks on the incredible power of science.

He joined Capgemini as a data scientist and soon found his way to the Quantum Lab, where he has worked full-time for almost a year.  

“I’m also an educator, giving presentations at client meetings and recruitment events, helping people understand quantum technology,” he says. “This is the aspect of my job I enjoy the most – bringing ideas to life with animations or interactive presentations. It was something I did during my studies: creating explosions with liquid nitrogen at high schools to get people excited while making a point about pressure and temperature. It’s not so different, really.”

On the other hand, Nadine’s professional experience in innovation – in addition to her master’s degree in innovation management – has given her a thorough grounding in how to embed new technologies and concepts within organizations. 

“I was always interested in disruptive technologies,” she says. “Right now, quantum computing is like an unexplored landscape. We are yet to understand how influential it might prove to be. In that sense, we’re working at the frontier, shaping its development – and I find that very exciting.”

Working with uncertainty

For all those working in the quantum sector, there will always be a degree of “uncertainty” – indeed, this is a fundamental pillar of quantum mechanics. However, Nadine, Camille, and their colleagues work with a different kind of uncertainty: how exactly will quantum computing blossom in the years to come?

“We’re not futurologists,” says Nadine. “We can’t predict exactly how this technology will impact society just yet. But this is often the case when you’re working with something that’s really complex and cutting edge.”

In terms of quantum computing’s current status, Camille sees parallels with the development of the laser. “When that technology was developed in the 1960s, it was pretty much just a ‘cool’ invention. Now we use lasers to conduct eye surgery, to cut metal plates, and in space communications. But it took years of research and collaboration for this potential to be discovered.”  

A flexible mindset

For Nadine, it’s about taking a journey with clients to imagine what applications could be important while remaining flexible enough to respond to new developments. “One of the key skills we need is agility, in order to respond to where the science and our clients’ needs take us. We’re being pushed by the science and pulled by new use cases.”

Once her client has expressed a particular need – such as how to improve their climate-related risk management – Nadine will discuss the problem with Camille. “I’ll ask him whether we can come up with a model or demonstration that explores how a quantum computer might solve this problem. If he can develop a model, we will consider whether it could potentially convey any benefit to the client, now or in the future.”

While getting “hands-on” with these models does require some specialist knowledge, this can be acquired from a variety of sources, says Camille. “If you’re working with the quantum algorithms, you need to be comfortable with linear algebra, which you might have encountered studying math, chemistry, or even statistics. You also need to be able to program them – but you can learn this relatively easily.”

Quantum collaboration

However, while the technology is still developing, there is definitely room for non-experts to make a meaningful contribution, says Nadine. “Even the most informed scientists don’t understand everything about quantum physics, and this actually makes it quite an inclusive space. As long as you are curious and enthusiastic, you will find your place.”

She adds: “We need domain experts who are able to see the limitations of classical (non-quantum) technology, quantum experts like Camille who can build the models, and strategic thinkers like me who can spot the opportunities for clients.” Through knowledge-sharing and collaboration, these teams are helping Capgemini and its clients prepare for the coming quantum age.

“No single skill is more important than another,” concludes Camille. “We are mutually dependent. It’s how we work together that’s so valuable.”

Inside stories


Capgemini’s Quantum Lab enables clients to understand the future of quantum tech and develop strategies to make it a reality