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Tanisha: The girl who made it big in quantum computing

Tanisha is an Innovator at The Knowledge Society, a programme for ambitious youth to impact a billion people using emerging technologies. She is passionate about quantum computing and her experience includes competing in the world's first quantum computing hackathon, programming quantum computers with software from Google, Microsoft, and IBM, and attending the first quantum computing course at University of Toronto researching quantum machine learning. She has interned at some of the biggest brands such as Microsoft and most recently at Interac where her focus was on the future of payments. She won CES Young Innovators to Watch Award and was also featured in the Globe and Mail for women in STEM. Tanisha is often called upon and has spoken at conferences in Las Vegas, Dubai, and Spain.

IN AN INTERVIEW WITH JOEL V ZACHARIAH, TANISHA NARRATES HER JOURNEY

Can you introduce yourself for readers who are yet to be amazed by your work? Mostly your background, the things that interest you and fun attributes to associate yourself with.

In reality I'm just a child at heart, I love to meet new people and follow my curiosity. I dislike being "normal" and embrace weirdness haha, (cue Steve Jobs quotes XD). I spend a lot of my time reading, listening to podcasts, or figuring out the next "un-normal" thing to do.

I have watched your interview at TKS Podcast and have come to understand you shifted from India to Canada at the age of 7. How was the transition in terms of locality, education system and culture as a whole? Being from Kerala, India myself, I can imagine it must have been quite drastic.

When I moved to Canada I felt like an alien. Canada is extremely different from India so there was a lot of confusion and lack of understanding of my new environment. Education system is very different as well, much less rigour but more forward-thinking than India in my opinion. However, I only went to school in India up till Class 1 so my information is outdated. Humans have evolved to adapt which was what I did as any other young immigrant. Lots of embarrassing stories of times where I was figuring out how to fit in within the Canadian culture, we'll keep those stories a secret for now. But I'm extremely grateful for having moved countries at such a young age and being part of the struggle every immigrant goes through. My parents had a lack of financial resources which made me an overall humbled person and less materialistic than those around me. My parents are the best, I wouldn't be who I am without them and I'm extremely lucky to be born into such a loving family. They worked day and night to help provide for my brother and I as we grew up in Canada. I think I've become an extremely driven and ambitious person due to this life-changing experience.

From a very young age, you understood the value of one's time, and how it is important to decide what is worth investing one's time in. How did you come to this realization and what changes did you make to positively impact your life? Many tend to follow the crowd aimlessly and lose the focus in life so hearing your turning point would shed light on what was done right.

I'm not sure if I knew the value of time since I was very young, I think it's a more recent realization in my teenage years. However, I always had an itch to do things differently than people around me and so as a child I did a lot of experimenting. In India when teachers were very strict (they would slap you/hit you) I would try to purposely get in trouble just to understand the reasoning behind their strictness. (I know it makes no sense and I sound like a bad student). I moved to many different schools so each time I would try new ways to make friends and experiment socially. I went from being a total outcast in school to being really popular. I also read a lot as a child. I think these habits set me up to look for more opportunities in my surroundings and through serendipity, I found TKS which is where I gained the wisdom from my mentors to think deeply about my ambition and happiness. You can make a change in your life by understanding deeply what your purpose is or actively trying to define it. This is a whole other discussion but it helped me value my time more because now I only want to invest my time in things that are putting me on a trajectory that will help me achieve my ambition, to impact billions. This is a long process of self-actualization and something that's personal to everyone.

How have you utilized your school time and maximized every opportunity you came across? More importantly, how, in your opinion, have the various experiences shaped your personality?

In the school I tried to be the best student, participate in clubs and sports while having fun with friends. I was in the IB program, basketball, student council, etc. but by gr.11 I dropped most clubs and dropped IB for gr.12. I realized that school is a system that optimizes for the average and grades truly don't matter as much as we think. It's important to build the work ethics to get good grades but life is more than just that. Which is why I joined TKS in gr.11 and my school experience dramatically changed. I did some crazy stuff that no high school kids do while still maintaining good grades. I became a changed person and Imy viewpoints have changed dramatically. However, most of my school experience is in Canada so I'm not sure how this path would apply in different countries. What I did in high school cannot be applied everywhere around the world, I'm lucky to be Canada and live a privileged life. In the end, I wanted to come out of school with a strong sense of purpose and responsibility to give back to the world and I think that's how one can optimize their school experience.

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You have always given due credit to The Knowledge Society for your success and mention how the ecosystem has benefited you. For the readers who are unaware, what is TKS and how/why did you apply for the programme?

Here is the link: and my spotlight. I found an interesting conference ad online 2 years ago and applied to attend which is where I learnt about TKS and its founders. I applied for the programme, went through an interview process and got accepted then the rest is history.

Quantum computing is a special computer, very different from our MacBooks and PC's because it uses certain properties of physics which give it similar powers like teleportation and telepathy so it can solve problems that are impossible to solve today.

Now for the meat of the conversation : Explain like I'm 5, and what quantum computing is. In an age where everyone hops on to the hype train of AI, why did you choose to pursue Quantum Computing? Also, when would the day come (or has it already come) when quantum computing will be the fuel of the world

I'm passionate about QC because of its applications and the physics behind the technology. It's mind-blowing truly. You're essentially building a device that simulates nature from the ground up, I can't even imagine the types of secrets we can unlock about the universe. It's like when people first built the computer, they had no idea it could lead to something like the internet, in the same way we honestly can't predict how QC will change the world but it will and that's what's so exciting. I just want to unravel secrets about nature and solve really complex problems that are impossible to do today like simulating complex molecules, etc. I'm not sure when the time will come because the technology is very rudimentary right now, not really capable of doing crazy amazing things so it's pretty far away in my guess, around 50 years? But I'm optimistic and hope that it will become more powerful before then

How far are we, in your opinion, from realizing the future of quantum internet? Does the promise of encryption and privacy mean digital utopia or is there a lurking monster under the system that we should be cautious about?

Quantum internet is far away and very conceptual, I can't really give a thoughtful answer to that. There is something called quantum key distribution which is the research in quantum encryption but I can't really make judgments about this field right now. Just beware of hype/fake news in the media.

How important is it to network in today's world? How has it played a vital role in your past and any tips on breaking the ice?

Networking is one of the most important skills, people open doors for you so who you know is extremely important. Just try to be around really smart people and surround yourself in that environment. I've gotten a lot of opportunities because of my network and honestly my only advice is to just do it. It's going to be super uncomfortable but the more you do it, the more practice you'll have. Just try to be authentic and interesting, and get into Linkedin.

I personally agree with you about the problem of Hicks Law (paradox of choice). What are the ways one can better filter everything and take the leap of faith to pursue their field of interest? Also what might be the best practices to effectively validate the knowledge we gain with the real world?

Just create flexible roadmaps for yourself, know who you want to become in the future and work backward to figure out what decisions/choices you have to make to get there. Get as much data/information that you can before making any big decisions, get constant feedback from your peers or people who are smarter/wiser than you. Be really open-minded because the more info you get about the world, the more your worldview will change and you have to be open to that.

Most of those around me feel they are at a disadvantage to not have support systems like TKS or exposure as those received in international systems. Do you feel this is justified or is there a way to still be on a par with resources one has? Also, in cases where such systems exist, how can one get over their impostor syndrome to participate irrespective of the outcome in the end?

Just create flexible roadmaps for yourself, know who you want to become in the future and work backward to figure out what decisions/choices you have to make to get there. Get as much data/information that you can before making any big decisions, get constant feedback from your peers or people who are smarter/wiser than you. Be really open-minded because the more info you get about the world, the more your worldview will change and you have to be open to that.I agree, it's more difficult to not have a support system like TKS and I'm just extremely lucky to have one. However, in the end, TKS is just a small part of your life, the bigger question is what do you want to spend your time doing? If you find a passion, have the internal drive and courage to pursue it then you will end up placing yourself in environments like TKS because you want to be around like-minded people. It's not possible everywhere in the world because there are millions of kids living in extreme poverty, war areas, dying of hunger, etc. and they can't afford this luxury. Their main goal is to survive which is why it's my duty to take all my knowledge and find ways to impact the world in billions so hopefully in future problems like hunger, poverty, cancer, etc. can go away. Environment matters a lot so just try to pick friends or find mentors who are smarter than you and can guide you. Imposter syndrome is something I deal with all the time, I'm also on the journey to overcome it so I don't have much advice towards that. Just try to stay away from negative thoughts and love your self.

What is your message to women who wish to pursue a career in STEM but are hesitant? Surely your story is an example of breaking barriers but do you have any pointers in particular for female youth of India?

Check this link: I really don't have much experience being a woman in India but I do know that there are so many more limitations on girls because of social, cultural and gender roles. I really wish all the amazing women my very best. Indian women rock and you just have to love yourself more because so many people will try to tell you otherwise and push you in directions that don't align with what you want. Be the boss of your life and don't let a man tell you how to live your life.

If you did not settle for Quantum Computing when you had to make a choice, what was your second option in order and what value did you see in it?

Ahhh there are many things I want to explore, AI is something everyone should know. Nano-technology is extremely interesting, space-related technologies, too many to list, honestly. I want to explore many more topics deeply but my second option would be nanotech. Again, just check the article:

What is your dream career or company? There has been a shift from becoming a doctor but do you think paths will intertwine in the future?

Founder/CEO of a company that is impacting over a billion people's lives and solving some of the world's hardest problems.

Your final advice for those reading this interview and wishing within to reach your heights in the future.

Just focus on personal progress, reflect and think about how you can become a little better every day. Meditate and try to become more self-aware, start your journey to understand yourself and what you want. Once you start understanding what's important to you and bring the most joy then you just have to take the courage to pursue it. Create a network of smart people and aim to be different than the people around you. My mentor always says, "To reach unconventional success, you have to take the unconventional path." And just be a good person, practise gratitude and honesty, they will make you a much happier person.

If you can recommend a few books

  • - Thinking fast and slow
  • - How to make friends and influence people
  • - Principles
  • - Sapiens
  • - Surely you're Joking Mr Feynman
  • - Antifragile
  • - Tao Te ching
  • - Meditations
  • - The subtle art of not giving a f
  • - The Black Swan

Joel V Zachariah is a final year Computer Engineering student at Govt. Model Engineering College, Kochi

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