Interview: Tobias Thiele
How and when did you join Zurich Instruments?
I grew up in Zurich and studied physics at ETH Zurich. I carried out my master’s thesis project in atomic physics at Oxford University, and then did an internship at the California Institute of Technology. Following that, I obtained my PhD at ETH on a hybrid experiment with atoms and superconducting circuits. After my PhD, I worked as a postdoc at the Joint Institute of Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA, CU Boulder) on hybrid atomic/nano-photonic systems and metasurfaces, atomic quantum computing and magnetometry. All these different research projects now help me understand the needs of our customers.
I joined Zurich Instruments in November 2019 as an Application Scientist.
As I came directly from academia, this was a huge shift for me – but one definitely worth it. I wanted to come back to Europe from the USA, and I stumbled across a Zurich Instruments job advert on the European Quantum Flagship website. The reason I was interested in the opening was that the job description was a great fit, as it allowed me to apply my broad technical background to various fields; to me it seemed like a rare case where a postdoc in fundamental physics would be directly useful in an industry setting, and it was great for me to get a chance to continue working on quantum technologies, the field I like and know.
What does your job look like, and what is the most important aspect of it?
I work as an Application Scientist for Quantum Technologies, and have recently become the main Product Manager for the QCCS - our Quantum Computing Control System. In this role, I work closely with all Product Managers of our quantum instruments and software. As the Product Manager QCCS, my role is - on the one hand - to increase alignment and facilitate interactions between my own team, other colleagues in product management and the rest of the company. Through this, I often engage in projects that span multiple instruments of the system, for example how to improve our system-test coverage even more. On the other hand, I interact with customers worldwide, and continue to take a deep dive into the quantum market and the science to gauge what we are missing in our current portfolio - and what we might need for future generations of quantum control instrumentation. So the key role of product management at Zurich Instruments is to cater both these worlds, to act as a turning gear between our customers, the market and quantum applications, and the R&D. Indeed, it is a very diverse job, as we often need to understand intricate technical details of the system and at the same time build the bridge to a large customer base in an accelerating quantum market, either through marketing material, or direct interactions and visits.
One of the challenges of this job is that there are many interesting ideas and projects that you can explore, and you have to select them properly and find the right balance. What I really like about my job is that I have the freedom to do what interests me and I can work independently. For example, I was involved in a wide range of projects over the last 2 years: I was product manager of 3 of our recent instruments, led the redesign of our instrument manuals from a pdf-based version to an html-based online version, and was strongly involved in business development, sales and support with a focus on the US market.
I enjoyed all these projects, which was only possible thanks to the great team support and team spirit we have here: everyone is motivated and willing to push ideas and projects forward, so that the company can truly excel, especially in this new field of quantum technologies.
What is the most memorable Zurich Instruments moment that stayed with you?
I had a great welcome and received a lot of support from the team. Although being one of the first members of our QT team, I consider myself quite new to the company and the COVID-19 outbreak kept us locked at home for most of my first two years here. But luckily, we were able to catch up, also through social events, once the restrictions were lifted. I won’t forget our first yearly company gathering and workshops, as well as the company’s fondue evening along it, which was great fun. My first interactions with our customers (such as my first trip to the US) were also very rewarding – for example, when together with a customer we put our instruments to work and measured Rabi oscillations on 6 qubits in parallel within a little more over a day. It is great to see the progress we already made since then, where we can now achieve this in a matter of a few hours - but now including unpacking and installing the devices into the experimental setup and running a single-qubit tune-up on all qubits, which - by the way - I all experienced recently in another memorable customer lab visit.
How do you spend your free time?
One of my pastime activities is playing the cello. I also enjoy spending time with my family, especially while exploring new outdoors places.