Techno luminaries Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Inc., and Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, joined thousands of tech acolytes on Tuesday night at the official opening ceremony of the first Hajj Hackathon in Jeddah. The event is the largest tech competition ever staged in the Middle East.
Wozniak, aka âThe Wozâ, and Wales, known by the online moniker Jimbo, were major draws for more than 3,000 software developers and 18,000 computer and information-technology enthusiasts from more than 100 countries who made the journey to the first Hajj Hackathon, held at the International Exhibition and Convention Centre in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah. The three-day gathering is ultimately charged with coming up with a way to employ technology to make the Hajj a more efficient and enjoyable experience for all involved.
The event, with its roots in Vision 2030âs guidelines to put Saudi tech talent in touch with and on an equal platform with their international peers, runs until Friday August 3. The hackathon has attracted leading programmers from around the globe ready to tackle the challenge of producing creative and innovative solutions to the problems inherent in the arrival of approximately 2 million pilgrims annually to perform the Hajj.
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, seeking solutions to serve a pop-up city of about 2 million people. Entries will be judged based on creativity, design, simplicity, and impact.
FEMALE TECH HEADS
Among the coders, software developers, programmers, designers, and innovators who flocked to Jeddah from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the world, is a new development in Saudi Arabiaâs tech world: female tech heads.
In his address on opening day, Internet entrepreneur Jimmy Wales lauded the strong presence of women at the event.
âI was really pleased to see a Tweet from the organisers in support of the female developers who are here,â Wales said, âand I am really cheering for some of the female developer teams to do really wellâŠIn tech, of course, we have a really serious problem with the lack of female talent throughout the entire industry, so itâs fantastic to see that, here, women are being supported in pursuing programming and technology as a career. I think itâs really an amazing and wonderful thing.â
Mr. Wales praised the reform process taking place in the Kingdom and the plan to diversify the economy beyond oil. Maintaining that the reforms are not just economic, he noted the additional emphasis placed on the values of tolerance, education, knowledge and opening up to the world that infuse Vision 2030.
In his speech, Wozniak said: âAs we heard before if youâre doing roughly the same thing, even if youâre doing it better, that isnât really true invention, it doesnât move the world forward. Itâs finding new ways for things that have never been done, in ways they have never been done and it is very, very hard to do.â
In remarks carried by Arab News, he said: âThousands of people are participating here trying to be useful and productive.â One of the most powerful points of being here is to help the community âŠ as the country has one of the greatest missions: Hajj.â
COMMITMENT TO STIMULATING INNOVATION
The hackathon is organised by the Saudi Federation for Cyber Security, Programming and Drones (SAFCSP), an initiative that seeks to meet the goals and objectives of the Kingdomâs âVision 2030â national economic development and diversification strategy.
âThis initiative is part of the Kingdomâs 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,â the organisers said.
Bringing together many of the leading minds in programming and innovation for the purpose of enhancing the Hajj experience for all pilgrims, affirms that Saudi Arabia is committed to exploring all options in support of providing a comfortable and successful Hajj, they said.
âThe participation of women in the Hajj Hackathon is a visible demonstration of the Saudi 2030 Vision of empowering women.â
SAFCSP is offering cash prizes to the top three finishers, amounting to a total of SAR2,000,000 to transform their ideas into application-based solutions. The first winner will receive SAR1,000,000. The second prize carries a reward of SAR500,000 and the third SAR350,000. Additionally, SAR150,000 will be given as a prize for excellence.
Abdullah Alswaha, the Saudi Minister of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT), said in his speech during the opening ceremony: âToday weâre sending a message to the rest of the world that, not only are we the heart of the Arab and Muslim world, but indeed in the 4th Industrial Revolution, we are the heart of the Arab and Muslim world for innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.â
He added: âIn the 4th Industrial RevolutionâŠthe rules of competitiveness have changed. Itâs no longer about our ability to compete but we can lead and leapfrog. Itâs no longer about historical records, itâs no longer about the largest assets. Itâs about our ability to execute with speed and entrepreneurship like no other.â
Google will offer mentorship and training for participants of the Hackathon.