JEDDAH: It began as a high-tech initiative to modernize the holy pilgrimage ... and ended up breaking a Guinness world record.
Saudi Arabia’s first Hajj Hackathon, organized by the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones (SAFCSP), brought 2,950 tech experts, developers and programmers from around the world to Jeddah’s International Exhibition and Convention Center this week.
Tech entrepreneurs and enthusiasts were set a challenge to create programs that would make the Hajj experience easier and more enjoyable for the 2 million pilgrims who travel to the Kingdom each year.
The three-day event was launched with addresses by tech legends Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
And six hours after getting down to work, the assembled techies had their first breakthrough — a Guinness world record.
A representative of Guinness International announced on Wednesday that the Jeddah gathering was officially the world’s largest, with the 2,950 attendance figure eclipsing the previous hackathon record set of 2,567 set in India in 2012.
Royal Court adviser and head of the SAFCSP, Saud Al-Qahtani, said: “The Kingdom’s Guinness record highlights the aspiration of Saudi youth for their country to be a technology portal in the region.
“This is in line with the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030, which is a quantum leap on all levels.”
Qahtani received the Guinness records certificate from the Guinness World Records’ arbitrator Ahmed Jabr on Thursday.
The programming experts came mostly from the Kingdom, the UAE, US, Algeria, Egypt, India, Japan, Tunisia, Turkey and Pakistan.
One participant, Tatsu Carelton, told Arab News: “I am here with my team from Japan plus one member from Saudi Arabia. We want to make difference. It is great to be able to participate in something like this.”
Nouf Al-Rakan, CEO of the SAFCSP, told the hackathon opening: “Starting from an ambitious Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is moving to a new era with a huge ambition. We will open doors and combine minds to spread a message that serves Islam and technology.”
#HajjHackathon: 3Tech entrepreneurs and enthusiasts participate in the challenge to create programs that would make the #Hajj experience easier and more enjoyable for the 2 million pilgrims who travel to #SaudiArabia each year. @SAFCSP @AlrakanNouf pic.twitter.com/wZKHYvQkez— Arab News (@arabnews) August 2, 2018
In his opening address, Wozniak, who co-founded Apple with the late Steve Jobs, told the tech experts: “If you’re doing roughly the same thing, even if you’re doing it better, that isn’t true invention — it doesn’t move the world forward. It’s finding new ways for things that have never been done, in ways they have never been done and it is very hard to do.”
Wales said that he was pleased to see a tweet from the organizers in support of female developers.
“I am cheering for the female developer teams to do well … In tech, we have a serious problem with the lack of female talent throughout the industry, so it’s fantastic to see that, here, women are being supported in pursuing programming and technology as a career. It’s an amazing and wonderful thing.”
Saleh Al-Maghamsi, an Islamic scholar from Saudi Arabia and Imam of the Quba Mosque of Madinah, said that competitions such as the hackathon would help improve the Hajj.
“The main objective of your presence here is to honor the pilgrimage. Today’s ideas will benefit pilgrims in the long run.”
Rayan Al-Zahab from Lebanon — the first Arab woman to work as a developer for Google — delivered an inspirational speech and shared details of her career.
Winning ideas in the hackathon will be selected by 150 judges from around the world. The top three will receive a share of prizes valued at SR2 million ($533,000) to help turn their ideas into businesses. First place will receive SR1 million, second SR500,000 and third SR350,000.
Judges each have a specialism and there will be three judges for each team.
One of the judges, Google developer Abdulrahman Mahdi, from Finland, told Arab News: “One of the most important things is that the idea is creative, easy and fits with the different categories of pilgrims.”
Mahdi said that 90 percent of pilgrims do not carry mobile phones. “If you want to target a larger audience, you must make the goal of your project more far-reaching, such as targeting the organizing committee of the pilgrims.”
One of the competitors, Asma Al-Basha, a graduate from Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic university, said: “We are excited to be here, and we will find a smart solution to the Hajj experience.”
Meanwhile, an Algerian team was focusing on finding health care solutions: “We are exploring phone/Android-based solutions to health and care problems, so that pilgrims can get help as quickly as possible. We think that this idea may save lives.”