Omar Christidis is the founder and chief executive of Arabnet, the region's biggest digital media event and platform. He is currently in Dubai, hosting tomorrow's local leg of the Developer Tournament, in which web and mobile developers from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan compete to create the best codes.
What is the concept behind the Developer Tournament?
The concept is a regional competition to identify the best web and mobile developers. It is unlike other competitions. It is not an idea or a pitching or projects or apps competition. There are no business or marketing plans involved. It is a purely skills-based competition, giving participants challenges to build specific features within a limited time frame. They all have to build the same thing. The best ones go through to the next round, and the weakest are eliminated. There are four elimination rounds.
What is in store for the winners?
There is US$5,000 [Dh18,365] in cash prizes, and the top four winners at the local level will get the chance to represent their country in the final championship against the other top coders from around the region. All of our judges are executives from technology companies and participants get exposure. Winners from previous competitions were approached immediately [with job offers].
What is the biggest challenge facing the sector?
The bottleneck we see for the growth of the digital sector is the ability to hire good, technical talent. The sector is booming, but the amount of experience is limited. Demand for talent is increasing and traditional sectors are moving towards digital. It is this interest that is driving the need for skills.
How have Arabnet and the digital sector grown in recent years?
When we started the event, it was an insider event, now there is massive interest from the telcos who are also engaging with content and app developers. All the traditional sectors are setting aside budgets and resources to digital.
How does the sector differ across the region?
Cairo is a strong hub of technical talent, there is a tremendous amount of talent by the sheer number of the population. Jordan has a strong entrepreneurial environment, we see a lot of support for start-ups as well as well- developed companies. Beirut is a creative hub and we see more design-related activities. Dubai is the region's business capital. We've seen Facebook, LinkedIn and PayPal opening offices in Dubai. It has become the platform for growth and the place to be to expand your activities.
What about Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia is a big market from both a demand perspective and in terms of clients, customers and advertisers. It is one of the most challenging markets to crack. Our event in Riyadh gives the audience the opportunity to connect. It is a hub around innovation for Arabic. It is our only event held completely in Arabic: it had to be, it is an Arabic-speaking market, even 98 per cent of the tweets at the event were all in Arabic.
What is the future for Arabnet?
We want Arabnet to become the global event for the Arab digital sector.