In March 2019, the first Qiskit Camp was organised in Vermont alongside the APS March Meeting. Like most of us in other parts of the world not attending the March Meeting, I, too, could only read tweets and see photos of the stunning views of snow-covered Vermont and the amazing quantum computing projects being built over the weekend. Oh well, I thought, maybe some other time.
Towards the end of May 2019, a Qiskit Hackathon was organised in Madrid. This was more of a community-based enterprise where the participants were mostly from in and around Madrid, and it also had a more eclectic mix of hackers as compared to the mostly physicists crowd of Qiskit Camp Vermont. This time around, I felt more motivated than disappointed. Like any good law-abiding citizen, I decided the best way forward was of course to just tweet to Qiskit and team (who had of course never heard of me) that we should have a hackathon in Singapore.
And thus began a wonderful journey spanning over the next four and a half months to organise what turned out to be the first Qiskit Hackathon in Singapore. Soon after the tweet, Junye Huang and I started coordinating with the team at Centre for Quantum Technologies and several members of Qiskit Community team to figure out the best way forward with regard to dates, logistics and participants. Less than 48 hours after we opened registrations, we reached the cap of 50 participants and had an ever-growing number of people on the wait list. I had only attended one Quantum Hackathon before this and definitely never organised one (and as we found out later, this was also the first University Hackathon with technical support from Qiskit). So we all had a lot to learn from the entire process.
TL;DR — 2 days of quantum programming in a diverse mix of participants
The Hackathon started on the morning of 11th October with, of course, striking a huge gong (what else were you expecting?) Several Qiskit coaches from the US and Japan had already flown in the previous night to mentor the teams over the two days of the hackathon. We began the morning session with a 1 hour rundown of Quantum Computing by Prof Dimitris Angelakis, followed by an Introduction to Qiskit by Luciano Bello and a session on Qiskit Applications by Rudy Raymond. Junye Huang then introduced us to the wonderful world of Quantum Games. The participants came from all sorts of technical backgrounds and ranged from undergrads and grads at NUS, NTU, SUTD & A*STAR to working professionals from the HPC community.
After some very delicious and heavy lunch (thanks to CQT’s always amazing event catering), we had a small pitching session to discuss the various ideas that had been put up in the Github repository by both the participants and the Qiskit coaches. We had already been in touch with several participants through the Qiskit slack channel and it was quite exciting to have ideas on everything ranging from a quantum version of space invaders to random number generation and transpiler optimisation. The participants then formed into teams through the natural process of selection and elimination (please don’t attempt this at home and use Crowdforge instead). We ended up with 10 teams that went on to build some very cool, very educational and very useful projects over the next day and a half.
Hacking on day 1 went on till late and we resumed on Saturday early in the morning. It is definitely inspiring to see how teams that started off with zero understanding of quantum mechanics and bra-ket notations went to implement qiskit-based solutions to the quantum counterfeit coin problem. Majority of the projects were on building Quantum games (thanks to some amazing mentoring from Junye Huang) and we also had a healthy mix of research-oriented projects (Randomized Benchmarking & Random Number Generator) and Qiskit contributions (VQE optimisations). Some theoretical CS projects on implementing NP-complete problems like the graph-theoretic Independent Set were also tested on the IBM-Q experience. The full list of projects is available here.
Qiskit Hackathon @ Singapore has been an extraordinary journey to say the least. In the span of 5 months, we conceptualised and organised what turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience not just for the hackathon attendees but also for the entire organising team. Here’s to hoping that the Quantum Computing ecosystem continues to grow as it has so far, through an open collaboration between universities, industry partners and community contributors.