An open source project repository and professional development platform for women in quantum computing.
Quantum computing is an emerging field based around the development and usage of quantum computers. With their superior computing power, quantum computers may be used to solve extremely complex problems in areas such as artificial intelligence, medicine, climate, finance, and cybersecurity. But for a technology that has so much potential to do good, there’s always a danger of it doing harm, whether intentional or not. So we have to ask: who’s involved in building this and who’s not? Who’s getting a say in how this tech should be used and who isn’t?
Much like other STEM fields, there is a lack of diversity in quantum computing. Not only is diversity important in mitigating bias in technology, it’s also valuable to have different perspectives and viewpoints when solving problems. While there are many underrepresented groups in quantum computing, we decided to focus on women for this project.
QuLab's collection of open source quantum computing projects provides a centralized hub that streamlines the experience of finding projects to work on and finding teams to work with.
QuLab's user profiles provide a comprehensive overview of user's skills, work, and interests.
Profiles showcase users' contributions to both projects and community discussions on the platform.
Another key part of our platform is to allow users to discover projects and help them get a sense of what’s going on in the community. As the landing page of our platform, the Browse page not only helps users explore the breadth of topics and applications within quantum computing, but also showcases the incredible work being done by fellow community members.
QuLab's Project Incubator is a space for users to pitch new project ideas, which will be voted on by community members. The community can also chime in on pitches by commenting and suggesting additions or improvements to the idea. If the pitch garners enough votes, it will move forward as a full project.
To inform our design, we first conducted research. We wanted to learn more about the quantum computing industry and what it was like to be a woman in the field. We wanted to learn what drew women into QC and what kept them interested in it. Conversely, we also wanted to learn what discouraged them and drove them out. And considering the interdisciplinary nature of QC and the relatively small size of the industry, we wanted to see how the QC community affected women’s experiences in the field.
To help us form our initial research objectives and to get a high-level view of the space in question, we conducted literature review of 28 articles and sources about the quantum computing and the state of the industry.
To get a deeper understanding of our space, we conducted 5 Subject Matter Expert Interviews. We spoke to 2 industry professionals and 2 academic researchers within quantum computing to get a better understanding of the field. We also spoke to 1 STEM educator to get some insight into what motivates and demotivates female students in STEM.
From here, our research began to dig deeper into women’s experiences in the quantum computing field. We conducted Semi-Structured Interviews with 8 participants, 7 women and 1 nonbinary person, working in the quantum computing industry to learn about their experiences as a professional in the field.
Of our 8 participants, 5 of them also took part in a Mapping Activity that we designed to get a more in-depth understanding of their interactions and relationships with others within the QC community.
Participants created these maps by drawing circles to represent the communities they engaged with, then added triangles and squares to represent particular individuals and groups of people they interact with in those communities. The colors indicate the participant's feelings toward these communities, individuals, and groups, with green meaning positive, yellow meaning neutral, and red meaning negative.
As participants created their maps, we asked them to further elaborate on their decisions to include these communities and people on their map as well as the colors they assigned to them.
We used affinity mapping to sort out all our findings and data. This allowed us to find patterns and themes across our research which led us to 4 key insights.
Those who persevere through all the judgement have received positive peer support.
“One of the reasons that I really enjoy mentoring is because I've personally had a lot of really great mentors and so, that's something that I [...] often talk about with my mentees as well is if you don't like your manager, if there's something wrong with like, your relationship with your manager, address that early [or] figure out if you can have a different manager.” –P1
Educating others help women feel control and ownership over quantum computing.
“Interacting with all students, I find rewarding [...] I like to give back in any way that I can, and I find that emotionally rewarding, so in that way, you know, it's emotionally supportive, [...] I just feel like I'm helping people.” –P3
Women are taking it upon themselves to address issues in the community through different initiatives.
“I see the same few people gatekeep people out of the field, how much I see the same few prominent sexual harassers hurt people over and over again, you know. And the feeling that, if I can go make things easier to use, go make things more inclusive and more expansive, then maybe that gatekeeping doesn't have to be that way.” –P7
Women are taking it upon themselves to address issues in the community through different initiatives.
“The people in the position to make decisions don't necessarily buy in. Like, they'll say with words, ‘Yes, diversity is important to us, inclusion is important to us’ and then like, nothing actually happens. So that's, I think, the biggest problem we face right now is buy in. From a lot of people who don't fully grasp that this is an issue.” –P1
From these 4 key insights, we developed 4 design principles to focus the development of our design response.
Provide women a safe, inclusive, and non-judgemental space.
Build internal support structures that amplify women’s voices.
Encourage truthfulness by balancing expectations with scientific integrity.
Provide opportunities for recognition that show and validate hard work.
With our design principles in mind, we moved into our Ideation phase. We each generated 20 concept sketches, for a total of 60 ideas.
We grouped together ideas that were similar to each other into larger concepts or themes. After grouping, we were more easily able to vote on concepts that best aligned with our design values while also being feasible for us to build.
In the end, we were left with a small set of ideas and groupings that we were able to combine together into a single concept, which would go on to become QuLab.
We put together a storyboard to illustrate the key moments someone within our target audience would experience when interacting with our design.
From there, we began to make wireframes of the main pages of the platform. We started by each making our own versions of the pages.
Then, we compiled our individual layouts and marked aspects and elements we liked and wanted to include in our next iteration.
We began fleshing out our screen designs, once again working separately to generate multiple iterations in parallel. Just like before, we came together to review our individual designs and pick out elements that we wanted to carry over to our next iteration.
After deciding on a single visual design system, we worked together to continue refining our screens.
At this point, we asked a few of our participants for feedback on our design and these were some of the takeaways. The overall concept seemed to be well-received. We were told that this would be a great tool for those in industry to be able to find talent to hire and it would also be useful to students or people looking to enter QC to gain experience. For QuLab to be a centralized hub for QC works and connections, we needed to make it easy for users to both fill in information and find information. For users’ profiles, make it easy to populate external links to their work. For projects, make it easy for users to create projects and listings for open positions on their teams. And finally, tighten up our information architecture so that it was clearer what each link and page on the platform was for.
We created a video prototype to showcase the key moments throughout a user's interaction with QuLab. We wrote out a voiceover script, then made a storyboard to plan out our shots. We filmed our shots within a day.
If we had more time on this project, we’d like to focus on safety and inclusion efforts. Women and other marginalized groups are often the target of harassment and abuse on online platforms, so we want to ensure our users’ safety. What we have in mind so far to help achieve this safe space is to create a code of conduct and a moderation system to enforce this code of conduct. In addition, we would like to develop a system of vetting users before they can join the platform in order to keep bad actors out. As our community grows, we want to be able to provide additional curation to create safe spaces for other marginalized communities.
We’d also like to further expand the options for involvement and provide more opportunities to users at various stages in their quantum computing careers.
Of course, we would also like to continue testing and refining our prototypes, as we did not quite have the time to do any involved user tests.
On a related note, since a user’s engagement with QuLab would generally be pretty long-term, we’d like to identify factors to assess the long-term efficacy of the platform.
Despite this project being the culmination of all that we learned throughout our Master’s program, there were definitely some challenging moments and things we didn’t expect.
We grappled with a lot of ambiguity, especially in the Research half of development and we ended up adjusting our problem space quite a bit as we learned more through our research.
We also grappled a lot with scope. What we were dealing with was essentially a wicked problem, so we really had to narrow down to make this problem space more manageable. But even still we often found ourselves asking questions like, Who is this for exactly? What about these kinds of users? Should we only focus on these people? This project really challenged us to put stakes in the ground and make decisions in order to not hem and haw over these questions forever.
In the end, we designed a product that maybe isn’t the most viable thing in the world. But I think there’s still quite a lot of value in it as a discussion piece. When people talk about quantum computing, issues of diversity don’t really get discussed that much. Even if this project isn’t something that would realistically take off as a platform, it can still raise awareness about these very real problems in the industry.