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Elevating The MENA's Tech Scene: Xpand Conference 2020 To Focus On The Region's Developer Community It's about time we put the developer community at the heart of the tech industry.

By Leen Ashqar

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Xpand Conference

At this day and age, technology has become imperative to our everyday life, and it's ever more so acting as a fundamental catalyst for economic growth. Digital transformation has become the core of government initiatives across the region, be it with the Saudi Vision 2030, or the UAE's 2021 vision. Middle Eastern countries have undoubtedly realized the profound impact of digitization on their economies, and they are racing to position themselves as the innovation and entrepreneurship hub of the region.

Looking at tech investments, spending on enterprise software has been on a steady upward trajectory in the MENA, and it was projected to hit US$4.9 billion in 2019, 3.2% up from the previous year, according to Gartner. This growth is also seen across the region's digital startup ecosystem. 2019 saw a record 564 startup investments of $704M in total funding, a 13% increase from the previous year, according to MAGNiTT. Despite the fact that these figures still lag behind global averages, the MENA's tech industry is expected to undergo accelerated growth in the coming years. And in order to achieve this growth potential, we at Propeller, an Amman-based startup accelerator focused on technology, product, and design, strongly believe that there needs to be a focus on accelerating software development in the MENA region.

The Middle East is still at a stage where it depends heavily on importing the skills required to build global technology products from abroad. This is partly due to the limited pool of qualified tech talent for senior positions in the region. As an early-stage venture capital firm with founding partners who are prominent members of the software industry, we have first-handedly experienced the struggles of recruiting high-caliber tech talent locally for our startups.

To understand why that might be happening, we must first understand the nature of the world of software. No industry from healthcare to education will be able to resist change. The software industry, however, is one that has been witnessing rapid changes in its practices due to the development of new and growing technologies. Every year new advancements in software development technologies are changing existing trends.

The field's ever-evolving nature puts immense pressure on software professionals to keep up; developers need to progress at a faster rate in order to stay abreast of these constant advancements. After taking a deeper look at the state of the tech talent in the Middle East, it is clear to us at Propeller that software professionals in the region are experiencing slow career development, and that's hindering the potential growth of the industry.

So, what needs to be done to fix this? We believe both corporates and startups should be investing more in employee development, and fostering a culture of continuous-learning, both inside and outside the workspace. As ecosystem-enablers, we at Propeller have decided to step in with one practical solution. For the second year in a row, we are organizing a conference specifically targeted at developers; moving the spotlight from entrepreneurs to those building MENA's software industry, quite literally.

Xpand Conference 2020 will be taking place on the 28th and 29th of March at the Kempinski Convention Center in Amman, Jordan. The aim of the conference is to bring the latest global trends, practices, and advancements in the field of software development to the MENA's developer community, enriching and advancing the tech talent pool, and, in turn, elevating the tech products coming out of the Middle East.

Following the success of Xpand 2019, which brought together 500+ Jordanian software professionals from over 200 top tech corporates and startups, Xpand 2020 is attracting a larger audience from Jordan and key cities across the Middle East, thereby scaling knowledge-sharing, and bringing the region's top tech talent all under one roof for an accelerated developmental experience.

The vibrant atmosphere at Xpand 2019 was a testament to the yearning desire of our tech community to learn, connect and develop. This has left international speakers in awe of Jordan's thriving tech community. Patrick Kua, Chief Scientist at N26, shared his impression on Xpand 2019 in his very own blog post. He wrote: "It seemed like Amman's tech scene is blossoming. People I spoke to used languages like PHP, Python, JavaScript and Java. I was very impressed by the city, its people and growing tech scene." Abedulazez Kasaji, Machine Learning Product Manager at Careem, also went the extra mile to share his observations on the ecosystem and the conference. "Where the region is almost saturated with tech and startup conferences, it's usually about business-ish topics," Abed wrote. "This conference is different and for a good reason."

This year's agenda has been carefully curated to address the challenges regional tech teams face; both technical and leadership challenges. Top-notch technologists from AWS, Google, Dell Technologies, INNOQ, Talabat, Careem and many more are flying in to share their decades-worth of experiences in building, leading and scaling technology products and dev teams.

To name a few, Sander Hoogendoorn, Chief Architect at Quby and a popular speaker and writer, will be talking about how software has been evolving at an increasing speed and how to keep adapting during his keynote speech; Kevin Goldsmith, CTO of Onfido, and ex-VP of Engineering at Spotify and Adobe Systems, will be sharing his expertise in building career paths for technologists; Adel Khalil, VP Engineering at Talabat, will talk about how they scaled services for millions of users; and Ricardo Sueiras, from Amazon Web Services (AWS) will be talking about Chaos Engineering and why breaking things should be practiced.

Xpand conference is thus expected to once again serve as the ultimate platform for the region's CTOs, tech leads, software engineers, devOps engineers and technical product managers to connect and share experiences with one another, and acquire new knowledge from global industry leaders.

Propeller is confident in the capabilities of our region's tech talent pool, and it will remain committed to advancing this highly-valuable resource in order to realize its full potential and accelerate the growth of MENA's software industry. It's about time we put the developer community at the heart of the tech industry, and Xpand 2020 has been aimed as a step towards elevating MENA's tech scene.

Related: The Middle East Is Ripe For Technology Entrepreneurship

Leen Ashqar

Value Creation Lead, Propeller

Leen Ashqar is Value Creation Lead at Propeller, a startup accelerator focused on technology, product, and design based out of Amman, Jordan.
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