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What's attracting global tech talent to Dubai

Dubai has emerged as a new heartland for the digital workforce. But what makes this destination so compelling for the next generation of tech talent?

The tech ecosystem is recalibrating. As major employers restructure to reduce headcount, traditional centers for innovation are diminishing, creating a new opportunity for destinations looking to attract the next generation of tech talent.

A major benefactor of this recalibration is the Middle East. In the first half of 2022 alone, the region brought in $1.73 billion in tech investment, up from more than $1.2 billion in the first half of 2021.

Dubai can claim responsibility for a large part of this growth. The emirate has emerged as an exciting and innovative global tech hub with many benefits for those seeking to build their career or business. It’s already home to three billion-dollar start-ups, and a key part of the Dubai Economic Agenda ‘D33’ looks to support the growth of 30 start-ups to become unicorns in the next decade.

From Apple to Ziina

Andrew Gold, co-founder and Head of Engineering at fintech start-up Ziina, started his career as an engineer at Apple back in the United States. He then moved to Coinbase, where he became inspired by the idea of expanding economic freedom. His journey to Dubai started after meeting Faisal Toukan at a hackathon in the U.S. in 2019. A year later, they would go on to found Ziina, together with Faisal's sister Sarah.

Back to homepageIn my experience, a person experiences a much higher standard of living in Dubai than they could in New York or San Francisco for the same price.”
— Talal Toukan, Engineering Manager at Ziina

“They got me very excited about the idea of building fintech in the Middle East,” says Gold from Ziina’s office in the Dubai International Financial Centre, “because at the time, there was almost no fintech in the region whatsoever. It felt like an opportunity to serve the mission that had initially motivated me to work in this space in a much more direct way.”

Ziina’s peer-to-peer payment application, together with its mission of boosting financial literacy in the Middle East, has already raised $9.4 million from the likes of Class 5 Global and Graph Ventures.

Andrew Gold, co-founder and Head of Engineering at Ziina

Beyond the standard

In the beginning, when it came to weighing up the location for Ziina, Dubai was a clear frontrunner. “It was a very easy decision to start a company here,” says Gold. “There is a thriving and growing market in the UAE for us to launch our product to, and the fantastic standard of living here makes it far easier to attract talent.”

That standard of living – supported by competitive salaries and 0% income tax – is making Dubai one of the most sought-after employment destinations in the world. While the entire country witnessed a 61% growth in tech hires in 2020 alone, a recent survey by Mercer found that Dubai’s software engineer workforce enjoys a 30% bump in salary versus those working in other leading tech hubs worldwide.

The cost of living for a tech worker in Dubai also remains consistently lower than one of their European and American counterparts living in London, New York, Amsterdam or San Francisco.

This was a major deciding factor for Talal Toukan, one of Ziina’s top engineers, who relocated to Dubai looking for a new challenge. “In my experience,” says Toukan, “a person experiences a much higher standard of living in Dubai than they could in New York or San Francisco for the same price. The salaries, spaciousness of the apartments, level of service, and quality of hospitality all contribute to that.”

Ziina is the UAE’s first peer-to-peer payment app

Investing in talent

And it’s not just private companies contributing to Dubai’s reputation. The Dubai Government is actively courting global tech talent using a combination of investment, transformation, and opportunity – including its Golden Visa Program and a swathe of attractive policies. For example, in 2022, the UAE became the first country to adopt a shorter working week by law at 4.5 days, with clear evidence pointing towards increased productivity and job satisfaction.

And this is just the beginning. Thani Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade, recently announced new business incentives, including a streamlined visa application process, more accessible financial services and faster business set-up – making it more straightforward to get established in Dubai.

Back to homepageAs a fintech business, we never could have gotten off the ground without the DFSA’s Innovation Testing License (ITL) programme.”
— Andrew Gold, co-founder and Head of Engineering at Ziina

Furthermore, the emirate’s commitment to fostering innovation through initiatives and programmes also enables start-ups like Ziina to not just launch – but soar. “As a fintech business,” says Gold, “we never could have gotten off the ground without the DFSA’s Innovation Testing License (ITL) programme.”

The Dubai Financial Services Authority’s (DFSA) programme enables license holders to test new and innovative financial products, services, and business models, creating new policy regimes and frameworks to help evolve business model. “It enabled us to get to market quickly while still maintaining an important regiment of controls,” Gold adds.

A cultural melting pot

As start-ups like Ziina grow, employees who choose to relocate to Dubai settle into one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, with its diverse, hyper-mobile population of many different cultures.

“That’s what I love about Dubai,” says Toukan. “It has virtually every national and ethnic background represented.”

For Gold, it’s been important to open prospective talent’s eyes to the many strands of Dubai’s cultural melting pot. “You often get a very narrow perspective of Dubai in the States,” he admits, “focused on the glitz and the glamor.

“The safety, accessibility of travel, cultures, food and, above all, diversity is often overlooked. I have met so many interesting people in Dubai that I never would have had the opportunity to meet elsewhere in the world.”

For Gold and Toukan, this multitude of factors is changing the way people are perceiving Dubai. “The tech world once overlooked the MENA market,” says Gold, “but Dubai’s people and business-friendly environment are changing that.”

The future of the tech workforce

The technology map is evolving, and no longer can it be said that tech opportunities are reserved for the familiar centers of innovation.

“There is a tangible feeling,” says Toukan, “that Dubai, and the Gulf as a whole, is on the rise with so many opportunities for people to build their careers. That, combined with the comfortable lifestyle Dubai has to offer and smooth moving process, is bound to attract talent from all over the globe.”

Gold agrees. “Silicon Valley is no longer the best place to be for tech," he says. "The market is now global. And while remote work is a great thing, a lot of top talent want to be building something together in person. Here, talent find a great entrepreneurial environment as well as a good life."

And as Dubai solidifies its position as global technology hub, it continues to become more and more attractive to potential workers – transforming careers, expanding and diversifying Dubai’s workforce, and shifting the entire focus of the industry for generations to come.

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