Sadik Hafizovic is chief executive and founder of Zurich Instruments, which provides instruments for quantum computing. Hafizovic is one of 10 physicists profiled in the March issue of Physics World to launch our new Ask Me Anything careers advice column
What skills do you use every day in your job?
The fundamental concepts that I acquired in academia, during my engineering and physics studies, PhD and postdoc time, are the foundation upon which I judge technological decisions. This understanding is priceless and feels indispensable to me. Zurich Instruments participates in government-funded projects such as OpenSuperQ, where we are helping build an open superconducting quantum computer. Even though I am not personally much involved in the project, I do need to understand where it can take us.
Communication is a skill that I wouldn’t say I lacked, but as the company now has 100 people, with offices in China, France, Italy, South Korea and the US, it is becoming pivotal and the requirements on communication are growing. Likewise, organization development and change-management are topics that I wasn’t confronted with in my education, but are key for me in mastering today’s challenges.
What do you like best and least about your job?
An outstanding feature of my job that I enjoy is getting to help, and learn from, many scientists all over the world, in many different disciplines. Over time, I have built up lasting relationships that go beyond the provider–customer relationship, which I find very rewarding. My circle of outreach seems much bigger than the one I had during my postdoc days in my research community. Of course, this also has a flip-side: in a research community one can strive for in-depth knowledge; now my technical knowledge has become shallower, as I cannot afford to go into too much depth in technical and scientific matters anymore. Nonetheless, the fact that I can be entrepreneurial and still stay close to science is wonderful.
What do you know today that you wish you knew when you were starting out in your career?
I can share what has worked for me: if you want to start a company, don’t do it by yourself; find one or two friends to embark on that adventure together. If possible, don’t do it as a side project, make it your main job. If you are currently in academia, build your company outside of the university if possible. Don’t be afraid of competition. The world is a large place with many niches – find yours.