When Hamda Alwahedi started her career as an environmental scientist, little did she know that she would chance upon coding and move to a career in data analytics.
She is not alone as the UAE’s digital drive has stoked the ambitions of hundreds of students in the country who want to carve a niche in technology.
Ms Alwahedi studies at 42 Abu Dhabi, the emirate’s coding school, to improve her skills.
The institute has received more than 31,000 applications since it opened its doors in October 2020, its chief executive, Marcos Muller Habig, told The National.
More than 300 students are enrolled at the campus and the centre aims to become a magnet for global talent, attracting coders from around the world.
With no classrooms or teachers, students can attend the forward-thinking school free of charge.
Students sharpen their programming skills through internships, projects, games and peer-to-peer learning.
The centre has attracted applicants from diverse backgrounds, including oil and gas engineers, university professors, schoolteachers, flight attendants and even a DJ.
For Ms Alwahedi, the change from earth sciences to coding may look to the bystander like a drastic one, but she said that in a world where everything relies on technology, it is not a major shift.
The 28-year-old Emirati coder is also pursuing a master's degree in data analytics at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Dubai.
“I felt stuck in a specific area where I could not really think outside the box in my previous job,” Ms Alwahedi said.
“In technology, I can specialise in multiple areas like networking, security or game design.
“I started focusing on coding in 2017 and when the pandemic hit, I had plenty of free time.
“I was interested in learning the programming language Python and when 42 Abu Dhabi opened, I thought I could put my knowledge into practice.”
Ms Alwahedi hopes to soon launch her career in data analytics.
This week, UAE selected her as a coding ambassador. She is among the 56 coding ambassadors to help champion the country's digital drive and support the National Programme for Coders that was launched in June 2021.
Twenty-three of the enterprising group are Emiratis, selected from all seven emirates.
The programme will also grant golden visas to 100,000 of the world’s best coders.
Hamed AlHashmi, another Emirati student at 42 Abu Dhabi and a graduate of the Higher Colleges of Technology, has been a coder for more than a decade and has been selected as a coding ambassador.
“I'm honoured, humbled and grateful for being selected for my technical skills," Mr AlHashmi said.
“I wish to be a part of establishing a coding culture in the UAE to help champion the country's digital drive.
“As an ambassador, I will promote the importance of digital knowledge to the government and private sector, employees and pupils.
“I will be sharing the concepts of coding, and how it can be a driving force for the economy for years to come."
He said he would work with other ambassadors to improve their technical skills, organise workshops and hackathons.
Mr Habig of 42 Abu Dhabi said he was excited that two students at the centre have been selected as ambassadors.
“I think it's a validation of the work that we've been doing," he said.
“To have them be at the forefront of this initiative as ambassadors is something we're hugely proud of.
“I love the focus on coding specifically in the UAE because it's usually something that was extremely outsourced.
"We hope we can attract talent to our programme from all over the world, and then retain them and build this kind of tech skills ecosystem."
Coders of all nationalities and age groups can apply for the UAE golden visa.
He said when students finish the programme, the centre will help them in applying for the golden visa if they wish.
For 42 Abu Dhabi, the next big step will be to focus on cybersecurity and expand cybersecurity offerings within the programme.