Moroccan Geeks Flock To ‘Paradise For Hackers’

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With its rows of sleek computers and ultra-modern study methods, Morocco’s 1337 campus is a dream come true for budding geeks, in a country where IT skills are in high demand.

Conceived as a paradise for coders, the centre offers project-based training on programming, innovation and building IT systems.

Tuition is free and students largely create their own curricula.

It all happens on a 24-hour campus reminiscent of Silicon Valley, complete with a canteen, graffiti art on the walls and games rooms offering swings and table football.

“It’s too beautiful to be true,” said Ismail El Mheki, who initially struggled to drag himself away from his screen to answer questions.

On discovering the institute, which ran its first courses in 2018, he thought it was a trick — so his reaction was to hack the system.

Conceived as a paradise for coders, 1337 offers project-based training on programming, innovation and building IT systems Conceived as a paradise for coders, 1337 offers project-based training on programming, innovation and building IT systems Photo: AFP / FADEL SENNA

But today, the slightly stooping 22-year-old is gushing.

“Everything here is incredible, starting with the teaching,” he said.

A self-declared “ethical hacker” (“white hat” in geek speak), Mheki taught himself with resources found in dark corners of the internet.

He dropped out of school before his final exams, much to his parents’ dismay.

“Everything bored me at school,” he said.

But after two years in Norway working for a cybersecurity firm, he took the entry test for 1337 and passed with flying colours.

Before he had even finished his course, he was offered a job as part of the school’s IT security team.

Morocco's 1337 campus is a dream come true for budding geeks, in a country where IT skills are in high demand Morocco’s 1337 campus is a dream come true for budding geeks, in a country where IT skills are in high demand Photo: AFP / FADEL SENNA

“He’s very strong, much stronger than an old man like me,” said Youssef Dahbi, the school’s technical chief — who is in his 30s.

“Cybersecurity is constantly evolving, so skills quickly become obsolete.”

Morocco’s phosphate giant OCP decided to set up the 1337 campus, converting a disused factory in the central mining town of Khouribga in a bid to address the country’s severe need for tech expertise.

The name of the centre comes from a system of modified spellings known as Leet Speak or “1337 5P34K”, used…

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