Made in the Middle East

A vibrant developer community is required for technical solutions that are created for the region, in the region

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By  Sathya Ashok Published  April 23, 2008

There were several reasons to like the Hack-in-the-Box Security Conference that was held recently in Dubai. For one, there was the entirely unique content focused on security weaknesses and sessions that went into deep technical detail on things that can go wrong in a system or things that can be used to bring a system under control. Then there was the impressive list of presenters and speakers, people who have become security-celebrities but who you do not often get to meet at conferences in the Middle East.

For me though, the best part of the event was the fact that programmers formed a significant majority of the population. This is unlike any other event in the region, which almost always is focused towards business users and high-level IT managers. The conference, which provided a singular platform to hear and meet some of the most well-known security experts and hackers from around the world, attracted a fair number of developers and programmers from around the region.

Through the two-day conference, serious programmers, in their signature style casual attire, often devilishly long hair and a defined nonchalance to the social norms that has become accepted in the business world moved among the various halls of the conference, discussing techniques here and sharing thoughts there. A truly rare sight in the Middle East!

Every market has its own dynamic, its own rhythm. The Middle East is a largely consumer-oriented market when it comes to information technology. There are a lot of organisations hungry to use the latest and best in technology, have the resources to indulge their whims and so become attractive potential customers for most vendor organisations.

India (where I began my career as an IT journalist), on the other hand, is a producer market. With a huge skill base in IT, the country plays host to significantly large developer and programmer communities. This talent pool is harnessed by vendor companies to produce the software, products and solutions, which are then marketed in consumer-oriented areas like the Middle East.

These vibrant programmer communities ensure a heightened awareness and healthy interest in the technology that underlies solutions and products. Such active developer communities also ensure that there is a constant creative process for new solutions. In other words, when there is a crucial mass of programmers who have the ability to meet or share information regularly, chances are they will produce niche solutions addressing specific needs and/or markets that are not covered by existing products.

In India, one witnesses this creative process at work everywhere one turns. Many of these solutions are focused towards emerging markets, where customised, more economy-specific solutions are needed to encourage and increase technology adoption and many of them are adopted and sold within the country itself.

A fair amount of the creative process is also driven towards solving existing problems on larger, more sophisticated solutions as well as building useful add-ons that address the particular requirements of verticals.

In spite of being a huge consumer driven market, the Middle East is yet to produce solutions and products that are made in the region, for regional enterprises. Nobody can deny that organisations in the region often require and crave for solutions that are not just mere Arabic-copies of software, but ones that have been designed, developed and produced with the requirements of the Middle East in mind. And nobody can deny that there is inherent capacity in this region to produce such products to fulfil such needs.

Yet the lack persists and I believe it is largely due to the absence of a comprehensive developer community. There are, of course, programmer bases in the region (such as in Egypt and Jordan) but among them they still lack the critical mass at which they start creating solutions geared for organisations in the region.

Many vendors develop and nurture programmer communities in India as they do across the globe. This process is essential in the region to provide a base for developers to grow from.

There is nothing that prevents the region from being both a consumer market and a producer market. It only needs the right push and a decent investment of resources and time - things that most large vendors already present in the region can do. The question however is whether vendors will step up to the task and, if so, when?

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