Space for 100,000 coders - the UAE is becoming an IT hub

The government plans to use talent from home and abroad to expand its computing sector

Big tech companies are, by nature, competitive with one another. But on Saturday, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and LinkedIn, among others, joined together to sign a deal with the UAE to help the government train and attract 100,000 programmers and coders in the country.

Tech is one of the most promising sectors in the Middle East's economy. The region has produced world-class apps in recent years, such as Careem, a car-booking service acquired by Uber last year, which now operates in 100 cities, and has created a million jobs in the region. There is room for more growth. Smart phone penetration in the UAE is now as high as 99 per cent. Other countries are working to improve their internet connectivity. Overall, the region had nearly 175 million smartphone users in 2019.

Coupled with this huge potential is the unique accessibility of the programming profession for young people. Once initial skills are acquired, anyone with a laptop and internet connection can operate independently, relatively free from the other barriers to entry that squeeze the talent pool in many traditional sectors.

For a number of years, the UAE has placed itself at the forefront of this regional opportunity. In 2017, in conjunction with the think tank Dubai Future Foundation, the government launched the One Million Arab Coders campaign to train one million young people in the field. Saturday's initiative will further diversify and strengthen the domestic economy. There are targets to create 1,000 new digital firms, which will be supported by plans to boost government start-up investment to more than $1 billion. But the initiative's effects could also be felt abroad. The UAE's ever-expanding Golden Visa programme, which grants 10-year visas to talented people, will be used to attract 100,000 of the world's brightest coders.

Even as we enter an age of more virtual work, business leaders and entrepreneurs in the Emirates are retaining their faith in the role of in-person knowledge exchange to boost innovation. California's Silicon Valley, after all, was not just a digital movement, but part of a bricks-and-mortar city that became the global centre of the tech revolution. And while the area's remarkable success was driven by the individual ambitions of its visionaries, favourable legislation and external venture capital also played a huge role in its emergence, both of which are now set to happen in the UAE.

Beyond its economic benefits, coding is an inherently young discipline. Too often the declining average age of the Middle East is viewed simply as a challenge that will fuel instability and discontent, and strain limited resources. A burgeoning UAE tech movement is giving youth across the region a clear path to a better future. The UAE’s ambitions include ensuring new opportunities are always emerging, for the country and wider region.

Published: July 12th 2021, 3:00 AM