“A lways aim for the moon. If you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” There is no known owner of this quotation but there are many adopters, among them is Erica Simmons who is working with many others to give Jamaica its moonshot. Like the resourceful hero in the sci-fi movie The Martian , Simmons has shown how to improvise to survive and thrive. Instead of going head to head with Mars’ harsh environmental conditions, her battle is with today’s technology landscape on Earth. Training for this mission has been intense and accomplished over 25 years in the enterprise software technology industry with strategic roles for Siemens AG (Munich, Germany), Oracle Corporation (Redwood City, CA) and Expedia (Seattle, WA).
High-level academics have been the foundation of her training and development. Simmons took advantage of her time at Siemens to attend their Corporate University in Munich & Nurnberg, Germany, to learn more about social engineering, anti-corruption and project management.
“My time at Siemens taught me about focus, persistence and ingenuity,” she said. “It was amazing exposure for me to be able to work alongside so many talented people all over the world. Our mission was always singular, the Mission to Customer Success. And everyone was committed to it. It was there that I saw the powerful results that commitment and dedication can produce.”
Simmons holds a degree in sociology with a minor in political science from the University of North Texas College of Arts and Sciences and a certificate in minority business advancement from the University of Texas Red McCombs School of Business.
Today her launchpad is Jamaica and the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), driving the country’s Fourth Industrial Revolution in her role as executive director of the Digital Innovation R&D Centre of Excellence. The primary focus is on Industry 4.0 technologies such as additive manufacturing, robotics, automation, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics.
Simmons remains committed to the transfer of knowledge to Jamaicans. Since CMU opened the R&D centre, thousands of students from primary and secondary schools have toured to see first-hand the possibilities of technology such as 3D printing. Simmons leads CMU internships and teaches new courses for data science and distance learning. “The future for Jamaica lies squarely now in our ability to use our innovation and creativity to digitally transform our nation’s systems and processes to capture wealth creation opportunities in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It truly is the only way forward for us now; the pandemic COVID-19 has made this crystal clear,” she said.
She is determined to transform Jamaica into a digital society. “Our mission for the foreseeable future must be on how we create a step or pathway for all people to prosper in the digital era. Now more than ever, we need all citizens of Jamaica to align with this vision for our future. There is just too much riding on this, not to focus here. I came back home after all these years to push this forward. I want to be one of the ones out front shining the light and showing the way because I have been to the future and back. If we all pledge to focus and work together on this mission, we can’t fail,” Simmons added.
In July 2020, Prime Minister Andrew Holness appointed Simmons to Jamaica Education Transformation Commission 2020, a steering group responsible for conducting a comprehensive review and assessment of Jamaica’s education system. That appointment came at a most critical juncture for Jamaica, now challenged to transform education for the workforce of the future.
Simmons volunteers with several international and national organisations including the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Women in Engineering (WIE), Jamaica Computer Society (JCS), UNESCO IFAP Working Group for Information Accessibility (WGIA), Stanford University “Women in Data Science” Kingston, and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). A published author, a recognised connector and change agent, Simmons is a sought-after public speaker on innovation, digital transformation, diversity and inclusion, STEM technology and the future of work.
Simmons’ training, work experience and commitment place her in a commanding position to “make it so” as Jamaica goes for its moonshot, a goal now more crucial than ever beyond recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, setting out on a journey where the country has never gone before.
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