Female computer developers, programmers and tech heads from Saudi Arabia, the GCC and across the world, staked out a presence that was both noticeable and notable among tech acolytes at the first Hajj Hackathon, held in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah. The three-day event is touted the largest tech competition ever staged in the Middle East.
The female tech heads were competing with male coders, software developers, programmers, designers, and innovators at the first event of its kind in Saudi Arabia.
The competition took place at Jeddah’s International Exhibition and Convention Centre. Male or female, participants all had one goal –– to come up with the most innovative solutions, using state-of-the-art technology, to make the Hajj a more efficient and enjoyable experience for the throngs that annually descend on Makkah for the religious pilgrimage.
Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Inc., and Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, had joined the participants at the opening of the first Hajj Hackathon. Guinness World Records has announced that the Saudi Arabia-based event drew a total of 2,950 developers, besting India’s previous 2012 record of 2,577 at a software development jam.
The female attendees at the Hajj Hackathon included Lebanon’s Rayan Al-Zahab, the first Arab woman hired as a developer by Google, which lent its support to the event by offering mentorship services and training for participants.
In his address on opening day, internet entrepreneur Jimmy Wales lauded the strong female presence at the hackathon.
“In tech, of course, we have a really serious problem with the lack of female talent throughout the entire industry, so it’s fantastic to see that, here, women are being supported in pursuing programming and technology as a career. I think it’s really an amazing and wonderful thing,” Mr Wales said.
The hackathon has attracted programmers from around the globe eager to tackle the challenge to produce creative and innovative solutions to the problems inherent in the arrival of approximately 2 million pilgrims annually. Hajj will take place from August 19-24 this year. In the Hajj Hackathon competition, entrepreneurs and technology experts focus on areas such as crowd management, food, health, finance, traffic control, travel, housing, communications, and waste management, among others.
Nouf Al-Rakan, the chief executive of the Saudi Federation for Cyber Security, Programming and Drones (SAFCSP), the hackathon’s organizer, said in her address at the event opening, “Starting from an ambitious Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is moving to a new era with a huge ambition. We will open doors and combine minds to spread a message that serves Islam and technology.”
The organizers said in a statement that the “participation of women in the Hajj Hackathon is a visible demonstration of the Saudi 2030 Vision of empowering women”, adding, “This initiative is part of the Kingdom’s commitment to stimulating innovation and assuming regional and global leadership in technology. It serves to focus the young and vibrant creative energies emerging in the Kingdom, providing diverse opportunities for them and helping to achieve the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030.”
SAFCSP is an initiative that seeks to meet the goals and objectives of the Kingdom’s ‘Vision 2030’ national economic development and diversification strategy. SAFCSP is offering cash prizes to the top three finishers, amounting to a total of SAR 2,000,000 to transform their ideas into application-based solutions.