LEWISTON — As David Roux walks the halls of Montello Elementary School, he is surrounded by many a curious sight.

Drones buzz to and fro across the gym, guided by kids with laptops. Tiny balls called Sphero Minis roll every which way and a small robot named Cue follows on Roux’s heels, talking nonstop along the way.

Although none of these things existed when Roux went to school at Montello 50 years ago, he doesn’t seem ponderous at all about their presence – the wonders of technology are nothing new to Roux. He always knew they were coming.

A quick look at Roux’s resume explains this familiarity with the gadgets and gizmos that overwhelm many of his generation.

After growing up in Lewiston, Roux went to Harvard Business School before co-founding Datex, the first commercial CD-ROM business, which was later sold to the tech giant Lotus.

Roux went from there to an executive position at Lotus before moving on to software behemoth Oracle, where he served as head of corporate development. After that, he became chairman and CEO of Liberate Technologies, an Oracle subsidiary.

In 1999, Roux and some associates recognized that the Internet and related technologies were going to be huge business. They quit their day jobs and created a company called Silver Lake in order to invest in private technology companies.

Today, Silver Lake is the largest technology private equity firm, with an estimated $23 billion in assets. Think about your favorite online brands – Skype, Go Daddy, Dell and Groupon, to name a few — and chances are that Roux’s Silver Lake played a role in shaping them. The companies in Silver Lake’s investment portfolio generate more than $80 billion of revenue per year.

Clearly, Roux knows a thing or two about technology, but he also recognizes the importance of getting it into the hands of future generations. Last year, Roux and fellow tech leader Corson “Corky” Ellis put forth a $300,000 grant to fund the Lewiston School Department’s coding program, which was on full display last week at Montello.

COMPUTERS EVERYWHERE

The dozens of children who showed up for the school’s Learn-to-Code night Wednesday had only the vaguest of idea of who Roux was. That fact didn’t trouble him in the slightest.

“As you can see,” Roux said, watching a drone zip across the gym, “the real excitement is not old guys like us, but programming these things. I mean, how much fun is that?”

Plenty of fun, no doubt. The elementary-age kids at Montello seemed completely at ease with the technology – not just flying drones and making robots do their bidding, but learning how the software is coded. Roux watched all this with a kind of knowing satisfaction, seeing nothing but bright things in their futures.

“Anybody who starts coding here in third grade and sticks with it until they graduate, even if they choose not to go to college, they’ll get a fantastic job,” Roux said.

“They’ll have multiple offers, great jobs and get paid a lot of money, because it’s a valuable skill,” he said. “They’re also going to be more likely to go to college. And if they go to college they’re going to be more likely to study a STEM topic – science, technology, engineering or math. When they graduate, they’re going to be more likely to go to grad school. They’re going to be more likely to get a high-paying professional job. There’s no downside.”

The Learn-to-Code event Roux helped fund involved kids as old as eighth-graders and as young as kindergartners. Roux has no doubt they can handle the lessons.

“They don’t think about it as computing or about programming as some horrible thing,” he said. “For us, what we’re really doing is helping them to get to a more advanced stage.”

The way Roux sees it, technology is not a bubble that’s going to burst. By the time these Montello kids are grown up, it’s going to be more prevalent and relevant than ever.

“What’s coming next?” he said. “The easiest way to think about it is that we will no longer think about the devices. What’s happening is that the computers are getting smaller and smaller.”

As if on cue, a drone whips past.

“That has a computer in it,” Roux said, pointing at it. “That has a Wi-Fi network on it. That’s how it’s operated. It’s generating its own Wi-Fi. Think of it as a flying antenna.”

As computers get smaller and smaller, Roux continued, memory gets cheaper and cheaper.

“On the margin it means it doesn’t cost anything to have a computer everywhere,” he said. “What you end up with is the approximate of free computing. Because it’s small and cheap, it can be everywhere. Your belt will have a computer, your fridge will have a computer. It becomes completely ubiquitous. It kind of disappears. You’re not actively thinking about it, it’s just going to be everywhere.”

At that, Roux was ushered out of the gym and led up the hall where children were using tablets to guide Cue, a fully programmable JavaScript robot with hundreds of different personalities just waiting to be released.

Next he was off to a “Programming with Angry Birds” class, another on Lego robotics and a third on paper airplane algorithms. Nobody had to show Roux the way around the school. Back in the 1960s, he was a student in this very building, although back then it was a junior high school. His uncle, Joe Mahan, was the principal.

‘GROWING UP IN MAYBERRY’

Roux graduated from Lewiston High School in 1974, at which point he went off to Harvard. He remembers Lewiston fondly. It’s where his roots are.

“I often describe it as like growing up in Mayberry,” he said. “I grew up in a white, clapboard house on Main Street with a chestnut tree and a basketball court.”

His mother, Connie Longley Roux, was a computer programmer with New England Telephone and sister to Maine Gov. James Longley. His father, Donald Roux, was a banker who coached high school sports and was chairman of the Lewiston school board.

“He was raised well by his family in Maine,” said Silver Lake partner Jim Davidson, in an investor profile of Roux. “He understands how fortunate he has been, so I think giving back is important to him.”

His colleague describe him as quick-witted, quirky and intense. This is a man who has shaped billion-dollar companies and who likes to play bluegrass on the banjo in his down time.

These days, Roux lives on a 350-acre horse farm in northern Virginia where his wife, Barbara, breeds, trains and shows world-class jumpers. The couple has three adult children.

In his whirlwind tech career, Roux has been all over the place, yet his links to Maine are many. He and Barbara spend summers here at their home in Harpswell. Roux is also a trustee of Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, to which he and his wife recently donated $10 million to help search for cures for genetic-based diseases. In 2016, the couple presented a $10 million gift to Bowdoin College to support construction of a new Roux Center for the Environment.

“There’s no shortage of worthy causes in the world,” Roux said in an earlier interview. “What it comes down to is we pick the ones that matter most. For me, it needs to be meaningful.”

Lewiston, where Roux spent his entire childhood, is also important enough to him that he donated to its School Department, and drove around the city recently just for old time’s sake.

“Some things have changed,” he said, “but you know? It is all extremely familiar.”

INFINITE POSSIBILITIES

Roux and Corky Ellis, founder of Kepware Technologies and chairman of the board at Maine Venture Fund, were regarded as celebrities when they made their appearance at Montello on Wednesday night.

It’s not just the grant money, although the funds were instrumental in getting the coding program off the ground. The men have a kind of aura about them, the kind of aura people sense in those who have turned their passions into big money.

And while technology has been a main ingredient in Roux’s success, it isn’t the only ingredient. A keen understanding of economics and global markets contributed to his achievements. Much of what Roux does is pure business — dollars and cents rather than bits and bytes. And that business sense is something that appealed to Lewiston School Superintendent Bill Webster when he was approached by Ellis about starting a coding program for Lewiston schools.

“I’m a businessman by background,” Webster said. “Corky and Dave are businessmen. And as businessmen, you don’t spend two or three years studying it from an academic perspective. You experiment. You try something. And so, we went right to doing something.”

It’s too soon to say how successful the program will be, although the buzz of activity at Montello last week was a sign that Roux’s optimism may be well-founded.

“We’re going to give 50 percent of our students a coding experience this year,” Webster said. “It’s amazing to think that this is something that didn’t exist a year ago.”

With that in mind, Roux on Wednesday bent down to watch as kids looked over the coding behind the beloved video game Angry Birds. He watched them steer Cue in one part of the school and dodged a paper airplane in another.

He’s optimistic that given some years and training, some of the children goofing around with Legos and paper airplanes today will be leaders of technology tomorrow. The joy, he said, is wondering where technology will take them — and where they will take technology.

“Back when we had big, clunky computers, we just couldn’t imagine we could ever get them small enough or with a battery powerful enough,” Roux said. “Part of the fun is that you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

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