The United Arab Emirates have long had a reputation as a career graveyard, or hardship posting. But that view is increasingly becoming one of the past, making a UAE Tech Career a real contender. Over the last few years, and at the prospect of declining demand for fossil fuels, there has been a concerted effort to diversify the economy, to help drive growth for years to come.
A sector that’s seen the biggest surge is information technology. It’s widely seen as a key engine for growth, and the backbone of other sectors. This attitude mirrors its role and importance in the leading tech hubs in Europe and the United States, where tech is not only an indispensable part of business, it’s the product, the enabler and revenue generator, all in one.
The UAE is keen to bring some of the success of tech in the rest of the world to the Middle East. To this end, they have launched a number of programmes, from farm tech to IOT, Blockchain technology, and smart cities to a fully digitalised government service, M-government. Many of the initiatives are getting significant internal funding from, amongst others, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, ADIA. But also foreign investment is expected to rise considerably, particularly since the announcement that the laws on foreign ownership, as well as visas, would change earlier this year.
Many of the programmes are part of an ambitious national strategy called Vision 2021, where UAE sets out the key themes for socio-economic development across the seven emirates.
The deregulation that is taking place in the UAE is a necessary step to create a fertile ground for new and already existing companies to grow and thrive. The recent relaxation in the regulation surrounding foreign ownership is seen as central to the ability of the UAE to attract both foreign investment as well as foreign technology companies to set up operations.
It is also recognised that attracting tech firms like Microsoft, Google and Amazon (AWS) is potentially crucial to the success of the region as a tech hub. They not only bring with them the technology and expertise but a whole ecosystem of suppliers and partners. Additionally, with cloud computing having become the de facto standard infrastructure for technology, the presence of the firms that build, own and maintain that infrastructure is essential.
A changing (tech) culture
As a region, the Middle East has long been thought to have displayed what we might term ‘cloud apathy’ – for example, there’s no real public cloud in place, and until recently there have been few initiatives to change that.
But it appears that is about to change, a change that is thought to be driven by expat UAE nationals who are moving back from overseas, bringing with them knowledge, a business culture and plenty of ideas of how to advance the UAE society and tech industry.
The demographics in the UAE is also considered as a positive factor in achieving their vision – the UAE is a melting pot of over 200 nationalities represented. And over 90% of the population hails from outside the country.
Despite this, the talent pool in the tech sector is still relatively small. This means that the opportunities for a UAE Tech Career, and to be a part of building the capacity and capability in the region are plentiful. Salaries also tend to be on the generous side, with low or no taxation across the board.
Microsoft is building a new data centre in Abu Dhabi, and Dubai is in the pipeline too. Both are expected to be operational in 2019. AWS has recently announced a cloud data centre in Bahrain (also for 2019), and Google is reportedly building a cloud region in Saudi Arabia.
Sayed Hashish, regional general manager of Microsoft Gulf had the following comment:
“Driven by strong customer demand for cloud computing, local data centres were the logical next step given the enormous opportunity that the cloud presents,”
EXPO 2020 Dubai
Whilst the drive for change is primarily attributable to the impending decline in the fossil fuel market and a wave of modernisation in the government, a factor that is driving the change is EXPO 2020 Dubai.
In almost exactly two years, the whole world will shine a spotlight on the UAE and Dubai, and the opportunity to show off the nation as a high tech hub for business, innovation, and creativity cannot be passed up. The race is on to get the cloud infra up and running before the 20th of October 2020.
It is hard to see any other region in the world being able to match the activity that is underway in the UAE over the next several years. The work opportunities in the tech sector are available in abundance, with many of them in greenfield and/or high profile projects.
Many industry players also bill Saudi Arabia as the market that is next too. Saudi is 10 years behind UAE in terms of industrial development, but the relatively new King Salman, by comparison more moderate, has already announced plans to build a new $500bn business zone in order to create an economy less dependent on fossil fuels. The country has a population of 26 million people, and infrastructure represents another huge opportunity for the tech industry.
All in all, the many initiatives in play at the moment, along with a declining oil industry, plenty of capital to invest and a desire to build a new economy for the long term makes the region one of the most exciting places to be when it comes to opportunity – and the weather isn’t too shabby either.