Saturday 20 December 2014

Israeli programmers bringing laptops to bomb shelters

David Wainer

Published 26/07/2014 | 02:30

Palestinians on the rubble of a home destroyed by an Israeli strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip
Palestinians on the rubble of a home destroyed by an Israeli strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip

When air-raid sirens sounded across central Israel this week, programmers at BioCatch Ltd joined thousands of their neighbours in rushing to the bomb shelter.

But unlike most others, the BioCatch team made sure they had their laptops in hand.

"We have no alternative but to keep going," said Benny Rosenbaum, chief executive officer of BioCatch, a cyber-security start-up whose coders spent their time in the shelter working on a project for a Brazilian client.

With thousands of Hamas rockets targeting Israel and many flights into the country cancelled due to the fighting, technology workers have had to find creative ways to adapt.

Though the industry's travails may seem small in a conflict that has taken the lives of at least 650 Palestinians and 32 Israelis, they illustrate the stark realities of operating in a country perpetually at risk of war.

Since tens of thousands of Israelis in the army reserves have been called up for service, tech companies must learn to manage without key employees. Tech investor Jonathan Medved said top people at one company he's backing were ordered into battle just as managers were completing an important business proposal.

"You're trying to make a deadline and all of a sudden two or three of your programmers are in Gaza," said Mr Medved, CEO of Jerusalem-based OurCrowd Ltd, a crowd-funding site. "But Israeli companies are set up to handle reserve duties so they find a way through."

At Tel Aviv-based BillGuard, which helps consumers identify mischarges on their credit cards, programmers were on a conference call with Amazon, working on an application for that company's new Fire phone when air-raid sirens sounded.

"The guys at Amazon were in shock," said Raphael Ouzan, a BillGuard co-founder. Nonetheless, the work continued, and when Amazon's phone starts selling this weekend, BillGuard's app will be on it, Mr Ouzan said.

Mr Ouzan said he had to cancel several meetings in Tel Aviv after foreigners postponed visits. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) barred American airlines from flying to Israel for almost two days on July 22, and European officials recommended a suspension of flights, after a rocket fired from Gaza landed about a mile from Ben Gurion International airport. The FAA has since lifted its ban.

Tourism has been less resilient than tech. About 30pc of visitors expected this month have stayed away, said Ami Etgar, general manager of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association. Hotel occupancy is as low as 30pc in some areas, the Israel Hotel Association estimates, and an industry that welcomed a record 3.5 million overseas visitors last year is faced with lasting damage.(Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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