The UAE has launched an initiative to find and train one million Arabs in computer coding. The ‘One Million Arab Coders Initiative’ was unveiled last week by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president, prime minister and ruler of Dubai. Once trained, the most skilled coder will be gifted US$1 million.

Managed by the Dubai Future Foundation, the initiative’s aim is to train young locals so they can contribute to the region’s growing digital economy and find more opportunities for employment in the future.

The initiative will also enable young Emirati innovators to play a key role in ‘smart government’ initiatives, e-commerce and IT. The e-commerce sector has become a $15 billion global industry, while the IT sector has reached $3 billion in the Arab world alone and is growing at an annual rate of 12 per cent, according to the Dubai Future Foundation.

Participants can register for free training at They will then complete several three-month virtual coding programmes. The top 1,000 students will receive certificates and will be enrolled in the Coder Challenge, which will determine the top 10 students. The winner receives $1 million, and the rest $50,000 each.

The influx of newly qualified coders will also undoubtedly boost Emiratisation, as there is increasing demand for qualified coders across the country. “Currently, tech is the booming market here in the UAE,” said Danny Thomas, a consultant at Digital Gurus – a recruitment company specialising in digital. “This is mainly due to the large-scale digital transformations the majority of businesses are going through moving towards the Expo 2020.

“The biggest challenge for us is finding quality candidates. We usually go further afield to Europe to find the talent to fulfil the increased demand we are seeing,” said Thomas. “In short, this market is growing every day, and doesn’t look like slowing down for the foreseeable future.”

Young Arabs will be specifically targeted by the initiative. Studies show that 50 per cent of the Arab population is under 25 years old, and 39 per cent per cent aspire to establish their own business in the next five years. Unemployment among young Arabs is also among the highest levels in the world, at 28 per cent.

Projections show that by 2020, there will be 80 million jobs available in various IT sectors – the Coders initiative seeks to carve out a space for Arabs to become part of that.

With a specialised and integrated curriculum in computer science and programming, and training being run in cooperation with the world’s leading educational institutions and international companies, students will become world class developers in six months, the course providers have claimed.

“I think this is very good scheme that will go some way to filling the requirements of this growing sector,” added Thomas. “It has been put in place as a long-term solution, so although we will still need to look outside the UAE for senior candidates in the short term, I believe in time this kind of scheme will go a long way towards filling the skills gap here in the UAE.”

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