Meet Kaniah Konkoly-Thege, Chief Legal Officer and Head of Government Relations at Quantinuum

Kaniah Konkoly Thege

Kaniah Whitehorn Konkoly-Thege is the Chief Legal Officer and Head of Government Relations of Quantinuum, the world’s first and largest fully integrated quantum computing company. In her role, Kaniah regularly provides legal and business advice and guidance on a number of complex legal issues around the emerging quantum technology market. She was a major factor in securing the closure of Honeywell Quantum Solutions and Cambridge Quantum, one of the largest quantum computing deals in history.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am the Chief Legal Officer and Head of Government Relations of Quantinuum, an integrated quantum computing company. I’ve been in this role since the company was formed in December 2021 with the merger of Honeywell Quantum Solutions (HQS) and Cambridge Quantum (CQ). Before the merger, I served as the General Counsel for HQS for four and a half of the six years the organization existed.

At HQS, I had the opportunity to nurture growth from the ground up into the global, integrated quantum computing organization it is today. In my current role, I lead the nuanced legal, contracting, and government relations work for this emerging technology, which is challenging because of the complex ecosystem and market.

Looking back at the 20 years I’ve practiced law, my career has been multifaceted. I started at the U.S. Department of the Interior working on a complex class-action litigation around mismanagement of tribal funding accounts – an area close to my heart. I am an enrolled member of the Osage Nation and was born and raised on Indian reservations in the Southwest. The most formative project I worked on dealt with cybersecurity. In late 2002, a judge required the Department to disconnect from the Internet, and I was tasked with collaborating with each bureau and agency to evaluate their cybersecurity infrastructure.

I came into this work as a liberal arts major with a love for science and technology. I shied away from a science career path because I thought I wasn’t good at advanced calculus. Nevertheless, I found myself learning the ins and outs of how to build a cybersecurity infrastructure! While I didn’t realize it at the time, this position served as my first professional experience with disruptive and emerging technology.

After about four years at the Department of the Interior, I was recruited by the U.S, Department of Energy (DOE) to manage some class-action litigations coming out of the closure of Rocky Flats, a nuclear weapons manufacturing complex in Colorado. This experience provided me with unique insight into nuclear security enterprise, which many other attorneys don’t have.  This ultimately allowed me to get involved with several other projects. The eight years I spent at DOE gave me robust experience with government contracting and national security experience, which helped me transition into my first role at Honeywell as the General Counsel for their Advanced Manufacturing business. This opened the door for me to meet Tony Uttley – the former President of HQS and now the President and COO of Quantinuum – and the rest is history.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, I absolutely did! And it completely blew up on the first day!

As an enrolled member of the Osage tribe from Oklahoma, I had a grand vision of advocating for indigenous people around the world. However, it was little more than a vision without a clear path to achieve this (or frankly, make a living from), so I quickly found my footing elsewhere.

When I reflect, I realize I shied away from a science career due to an unconscious bias of myself and my capabilities. When I was in high school, I distinctly remember several math teachers telling me that men are naturally better at math than women.  In fact, in 2005, the President of Harvard said men are better at math and science than women. At the time, there was a lot of debate on whether women could really hack it in the STEM world. In high school, I thought I wasn’t good at science because I got a B- in physics. I now realize that a B- in physics is nothing to be ashamed of and gender shouldn’t dictate your career path. Research has shown females and people of color are most vulnerable to shy away from being scientists due to this unconscious bias but still love to do science activities! Like me, I loved the work with cybersecurity, nuclear security, and now quantum computing and the doing got me hooked on science.

Today, I’m surrounded by physics at my job and instead of being intimidated by it, I look to my colleagues to help me understand it. It turns out, I really love science and advanced tech – and am so grateful my career took me here in the end.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Early on, I always assumed I was wrong, and others knew more. Heading into meetings, I’d spend hours researching a particular issue so I could formulate an opinion – only to assume it was wrong when my boss would say something that conflicted with it.

After a couple of years, I mustered the courage to ask my boss to explain his position since my research had found something else entirely. He had never done the research to confirm his point of view. It was then I realized I needed to ask questions and challenge assumptions no matter who was in the room. I’ve found this is what leaders want and what women find particularly challenging.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Being in this role! The process of finalizing the merger and launching launch a new company was enormous amount of work – especially since we did it in 12 months. I worked on a case that went up to the Supreme Court and I still consider this merger the coolest and hardest thing I have done. It was challenging, but it was fun!

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I believe in the adage: Fortune Favors the Brave.  I seek complex and challenging issues or seemingly impossible problems to solve.  This has contributed to my success.

I think in some ways you are shown grace when you take on the hard challenges – because I’ve found that these are issues others are reluctant to dive deep into, and they require a lot of collaboration to find solutions. When I’m mentoring a new attorney, I tell them to run toward the fire and the hard problems because they will learn more.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Don’t be afraid to ask basic questions. Take the time to learn about the technology, especially if you’re in a functional area such as finance or legal.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes, I believe there are very significant barriers for women working in tech and I think they start in elementary school and continue into the workplace. I use myself as an example: I considered a B- to be my failure rather than the instructor’s. Women are often conditioned to believe they are doing something wrong rather than challenging an environment that does not meet their needs. For example, men may learn the basics of math better with physical building blocks while women may respond better to more analytical problems and storytelling. They may need such activities to build math skills in a way that stimulates their brains.

Women may also internalize things in a manner different from men and this can create some invisible barriers. Overcoming them requires both forgiveness and tenacity – make sure you don’t blame yourself. Continue to evaluate your circumstances and whether it’s an environment in which you can thrive and succeed.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Companies must find ways to bring more women into the workplace and ensure it is inclusive. Every leader and manager should constantly evaluate the room and ask: “Are women speaking up? Am I creating an environment for women to speak up? Am I calling on women in this room to ask for their opinions? Or am I approaching this situation from a place of privilege?”

This goes for all leaders – men and women. I know that as a Chief Legal Officer I possess a position of power – and that signifies that people may not treat me in the same way as perhaps a new administrative staff member. It is important that leaders always think about privilege when creating policies and cultivating an equitable working environment: how these decisions will impact all people across all areas of their organization.

There are currently only 21 percent of women working in tech. If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

There’s no easy answer because no one thing can fix the problem. It takes holistic change from an institutional perspective, and that takes time to shift.

If I had to pick one thing, it would be to have every tech company really evaluate their hiring practices.  To make sure they are sourcing the right candidates, eliminating unconscious bias when reviewing resumes; and being vigilant about asking questions that are equitable and welcoming to all candidates.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Networking and mentorship. Finding like-minded people who create a safe space for you is critical to navigating obstacles or challenges in your career. Seek women in other fields – you may find an ally in another role, which in some ways can be beneficial. Finding a sponsor also is important. A sponsor is different from a mentor. A mentor acts as a sounding board and provides advice. A sponsor helps you navigate an organization or company and advocates for you. A sponsor, a mentor, and a network are critical to your overall success.