The tech industry is full of innovators and mavericks, writing code and building apps that have changed the course of history. When you think tech, you think Mark Zuckerburg, Elon Musk, or the late, great turtleneck himself, Steve Jobs. Even in Jamaica, the idea of tech is associated with men, but from now on, when you think tech, and especially when you think Jamaican tech, we want you to think of women. One such woman is Jamaica’s very own Nicole Thompson of NiRiTech, the brains behind the husband-and-wife-run operation. Flair met up with Nicole at ‘The Hub’, a co-working space where she was already deep in some work, maximising her time in Kingston.
Nicole’s tech career started in a bit of an unorthodox way, in her classroom. As a high school history and geography teacher, she realised that her students weren’t learning in the most optimal way. That led her to develop a teaching method that favoured more than rote learning and instead included the technology to which her students were already accustomed. “I was the teacher who walked around with the laptop and projector,” she shared. “I loved using the tech, I made it very visual.” By the time her teaching contract ended in 2014, however, Nicole had found a way to meld her passion for education with her interest in tech. “I wanted to have more control, I decided to take the risk,” she explained, so she tutored one student over Skype, and that one student turned into her and her husband Ricardo, the ‘Ri’ in NiRiTech, going on to develop and provide online-based after-school Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) courses, as well as A-Level courses. “While the courses were online, it was still similar to a traditional evening school.” That wasn’t the most optimum option in Nicole’s opinion, so they developed a platform that automated the learning process, or at least the administrative side of things to free up the teaching staff. This wasn’t enough for Nicole, however, so after a sabbatical after the loss of her father, NiRiTech took a step back.
While she uses pretty technical language, you can count on Nicole to walk you, step by step, through her process. It’s that commitment to educating that propelled her, upon her return to the tech world, to come back swinging. Nicole swung hard and took the risk, which ultimately led to the company including the development of custom platforms for its clients. “My husband calls me the ‘Impact Lady’. I’m always looking at how can I make this better for people,” and that’s what initially drove her and that’s what keeps her going in the development of all their EdTech platforms. Since then, they’ve helped to develop tech solutions and platforms for JN, The Women’s Foundation and most recently, The Honey Bun Foundation, while working on special (top secret) projects for themselves. “We have the talent, what we need is the support. In reality, there are so many barriers to being successful as an entrepreneur regarding the finances and the supporting of the vision.”
When Flair asked what she’d like to see in the future of Jamaican tech, especially in her hometown Mandeville, Manchester, Nicole smiled warmly. Firstly, she wants NiRiTech’s hub to be back home making Mandeville Jamaica’s very own ‘Silicone Hill’, especially since the climate is suited for housing data. Secondly, she wants to provide educational training for young people to foster in them an entrepreneurial spirit through learning, and even if they’re not interested in working for themselves, they’ll still have all the necessary tools to do so. “If I had this opportunity earlier on in life if I had the exposure earlier, I only imagine how it would have impacted me.”
Nicole loves her tech, but she still gets analogue with her diary while using her phone to keep her on the ball. She suggests, to keep on track and maximise your 2020 success, to write down your goals as well as the steps to achieve them. “I’m not always organised but this helps me to keep things simple.”