Jon Allcock ’02 – Quantum Tech Researcher

Jon is a Senior Researcher in the Tencent Quantum Laboratory, where he works on investigating practical applications of quantum computing for machine learning, material design and chemistry. He will be hosting one of the networking groups at the CIS Connect & Inspire: Tech Forum 2019 that is taking place in November. Learn more about Jon’s career path here…

  • Name: Jon Allcock
  • Graduating Year: 2002
  • Years at CIS: 14
  • College & Degree:  Natural Sciences (Physics), Magdalene College, University of Cambridge
  • Current city of residence: HK
  • Places lived before:  London, Bristol, Cambridge

Could you introduce yourself a bit (background & profession)? 

After CIS I studied physics as an undergraduate, and went on to complete a PhD in the quantum computation and quantum information group at Bristol University.  I then left academia for almost 6 years, and worked for the strategy execution consulting firm BTS, before making a very belated return to science as a postdoctoral researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.  I now work in the Tencent Quantum Laboratory, where I divide my time between developing algorithms for quantum computers, and assessing quantum-related startup companies and research groups for investment and collaboration opportunities.

What applications are there for your research?  

Right now a lot of research is going into whether quantum computing can bring benefits to areas as diverse as drug discovery, design of new materials, industrial and financial optimization, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning.  That said, there is still a lot we don’t understand in the field, and a lot of work remains to be done to come up with real killer applications.

When will large-scale, universal quantum computers be available that can solve real problems of interest?  

MIT professor Seth Lloyd perhaps put it best recently: “estimates vary from 20 years plus or minus never.”  Hopefully it ends up being on the low end of that range.

Do you work in an actual ‘laboratory’?  

No, I’m a theorist so I don’t really need any lab equipment, just a whiteboard and a computer.  I actually work in a normal open-plan office.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it? 

Realizing after several years of consulting that I was pursuing the wrong career for me, and making the decision to ‘start again’ as a researcher was challenging both psychologically and financially.  It wasn’t an easy process but I’m glad I made the switch.

You are the co-captain of the CIS Dragonboat Team this year. Tell us about the team and why you decided to join? 

When I moved back to HK after living in the UK for many years, a good friend of mine told me how much fun the dragonboat team was.  I usually don’t believe what Anca tells me, but this time she was right! The team has a great atmosphere, and includes alumni from the class of 94 all the way to those who have just graduated from uni, as well as CIS parents and teachers.  That was 6 seasons ago, and I’ve been paddling with the team ever since, and is where I have made some of my closest friends.  If you’ve ever thought about giving dragonboat a try, my fantastic co-captain Tiffany Woo (class of 2006) and I would love to hear from you!

What are your plans for the future?  

Hopefully I can carry on doing what I’m doing for the foreseeable future, and I can paddle long enough to see my son Freddie drum for the team!

Do you have any advice for any alumni who are interested in your career field?

i) Find people to talk to about problems of interest. Science is fun when its collaborative. ii) Take your time – better to learn one thing slowly and well than ten things quickly.

What was your most memorable CIS moment?  

It’s not really a specific moment, but I met my wife  – the lovely Jennifer Hung – when she joined my class in year 10 🙂

How did your CIS experience contribute to who you are today? 

Hard to write something down that doesn’t sound corny, but seriously I had a fantastic time at CIS and will always be thankful for the chance to go to such a great school.

What was your favourite subject at CIS and was it related to anything you actually ended up doing?  

Physics and maths – and yes, they are both right at the heart of what I do for work now.

Please read the following questions and write down the first answer to pop into your mind (3-second limit ):

  • What is your favourite movie/production: Aliens
  • Who was your favourite CIS teacher:  Mr Tsang, Mr Kalsi and Mr Mulcahy!
  • What would be your last meal on death row:  Bacon and mashed potato sandwich
  • If you could have a one-hour conversation with anyone – historical or current – who would that be and why?  I’d love to have been a fly on the wall listening to Queen come up with the lyrics and melody to Bohemian Rhapsody.

Come meet Jon at our Connect & Inspire: Tech Forum 2019 in November!