In the era of the internet of things, where technology is fast changing the way people work, live and spend leisure time, being fluent in computer languages and data sciences is turning into an essential skill. Among UAE-based employers, 88 per cent say they need employees with analytics skills, itself an 88 per growth from 47 per cent of employers in 2014, according to the Workforce 2020 report by Oxford Economics and SAP SE data. 

The UAE aims to become the innovation benchmark for smart cities worldwide. A Huawei and Navigant report that studied the strategy and execution of smart city campaigns in the region declared Dubai the Middle East’s leading smart city due to its high-tech infrastructure and implementation of several smart initiatives. 

As the UAE drives digital transformation and becomes a smart hub, careers in coding and analytics will continue to gain importance, says Hichem Maya, Head of Industries — Middle East and North Africa at SAP. “Coding and analytics are particularly useful in rapidly digitising industry verticals such as the government and public sector, banking and finance, healthcare, retail and sport.

“While industry analysts estimate that two-thirds of careers of the future do not yet exist, we do know that coding and analytics provide the critical thinking and collaboration experience that UAE employers value. SAP is dedicated to hiring talented coders.”

Other careers will depend on big data. The proliferation of the internet means a lot of information about users is now being collected. The correct analysis of this data can serve to benefit almost any organisation, including governmental entities, says Dr Mohammad Watfa, Associate Dean of Research, Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences, University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD). 

“In the UAE, big data is now omnipresent, and the technologies to collect and store it are expanding day after day, from Salik tags to online shopping trends. The problem is that good analysis can be difficult. Selecting which problems can be solved, then picking which are useful and which ones we can gain substantial value and understanding from requires expertise. Data analysts in the UAE are rare, so there is high demand for such skills.”

Courses to check out

UAE universities are refining their major offerings in computer science and IT to address this new demand. 

UOWD’s computer sciences undergraduate and postgraduate programmes will offer two new subjects — big data analysis and data mining techniques — as electives. The university will introduce advanced data analysis as a new masters/PhD subject. It teaches students to perform advanced diagnostics using MATLAB, R, BUGS/JAGS and other tools, as well as writing independent code. Another programme on big data analysis will begin next year.

The undergrad programme at Heriot-Watt University (HWU) Dubai includes subjects on big data management, computer security and games programming. A new master’s in data science will be introduced in September to meet demand from working professionals. 

“Our graduates find employment in a broad range of sectors in the UAE and abroad,” says Stephen Gill, Academic Head, School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, HWU Dubai Campus. “These include finance, banking, logistics, computing, health and energy. I foresee significant demand for people that can design, implement, and manage systems. Besides, students who start a career now in coding can easily move later into either management or areas such as security or data management.”

Certified skill set

Several certification courses are also available in the UAE related to coding and data analysis, for business professionals in finance, marketing and IT to augment their CVs. 

To name a few, Meirc Training & Consulting and Informa Middle East offer training courses on data analysis in business intelligence. The SAP Training and Development Centre’s upskilling programmes have public-private partnerships such as the annual Africa Code Week and Refugee Code Week initiatives, which train thousands of people in coding. 
Dr Watfa sees an automated future that will nevertheless require human intervention in terms of problem-solving. “Students should advance their knowledge on tools and techniques that are hard to learn and would set them apart in the real world,” he says.

Smart choice

Alphin Edgar D’cruz, a 20-year-old bachelor of computer science student at University of Wollongong, is passionate about designing programs and wants to build a career in the field. “Using data to simplify everyday life has always been an intriguing topic to me and learning about coding and algorithms feels like a thrilling journey towards the future of smart cities. In our university, we learn advanced programming, algorithms, memory management and networking concepts both theoretically and practically.” 

When applying for a driving license and a blue Nol card, D’cruz was asked to submit a variety of documents and fill up long forms. While doing so, he wondered how easy it would be if things were automated. “Why couldn’t I just submit one piece of ID or perhaps a biometric scan and be done with it, and they pull my information off of a database? The future, I envision, does away with these hassles to make everything a seamless experience.”

He foresees demand for data analysts increasing, along with the skill ceiling for the job. However, he is confident that the code design practices he will continue to receive for the next few years will give him an edge in the future job market.