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06 Dec 2017 Greg Wright, The Yorkshire Post

Sheffield-born tech tycoon provides boost for computer science in schools

A Sheffield-born tech tycoon is spending more than £1m of his own money on a foundation to boost computer science in local schools.

David Richards, chief executive of WANdisco, is donating $1.5m to help children get ready for ‘real world’ jobs in a booming, well-paid sector desperate for people. 

He has set up the David and Jane Richards Family Foundation after growing frustrated with the Government’s focus on coding in computer classes, a job he believes will increasingly be done by artificial intelligence. 

His old school, Tapton in Crosspool, South Yorkshire, will be the first to benefit but he hopes other secondaries will get in touch. 

Mr Richards, aged 47, said: “You can’t have all this money and hold on to it or buy a football team. There’s only so many houses you can live in. I think it’s better to do something good for the world. 

“I’ve been thinking about this for 10 years. I knew I couldn’t keep complaining to my wife Jane all the time, I had to do something. Now I’m in the fortunate position where I can.” 

In Silicon Valley, where he lives, it is common for tech founders to spend their wealth this way, he added. 

The foundation will run hands-on courses to teach pupils how to use applications to manipulate and analyse huge amounts of data. Mr Richards said it would focus on fun activities, such as using technology to attempt to predict the outcome of a football match. He said this could have similarities with attempts to find a cure for cancer. 

He added: “Children coming out of the British education system have skills which are not as relevant as they might be. My aim is to make them employable. 

“Sheffield has a rich tradition of philanthropy, I’m hoping this might be an example to others.” 

WANdisco is a ‘big data’ specialist helping some of the world’s largest firms transfer information from servers into the cloud. 

The amount of data in the world is set to quadruple between now and 2020 and Mr Richards believes “that’s where all the jobs are going to be”. 

The company has offices in the Electric Works in Sheffield, California and China, Japan, Belfast, Australia and India. 

It is growing fast, it recently signed a $3.6m deal with computer maker Dell and on Monday raised $10m for growth. 

Last month, Mr Richards received an honorary doctorate from Sheffield Hallam University. 

He said: “The fact it’s from my home town really means something, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken it. 

“Almost all WANdisco’s Sheffield staff went to one of its two universities.” 

Mr Richards is looking to recruit trustees who have experience of dealing with Government. 

He said a lot of his peers in Silicon Valley wanted to become involved with the foundation.

Mr Richards also told The Yorkshire Post that he was keen to develop a project that would put beehives into schools. 

Mr Richards said that bees are under “great threat” from pesticides, which he believes should not be used because there are “well-documented alter- natives”. 

Mr Richards added: “The best way of raising awareness about these alternatives is through education.” 

Earlier this week, software firm WANdisco revealed that it had raised £16m through an equity placing and said shareholders including CEO David Richards are to sell shares worth nearly £6m. 

WANdisco said additional engineering staff will be hired to increase development capacity and testing, allowing for parallel efforts with multiple partners instead of the slower serial approach it currently follows. 

The placing was significantly oversubscribed with those close to the transaction suggesting it was five times covered, with an order book in excess of £37m. 

Mr Richards, who is a co-founder of WANdisco and also interim chairman, is selling 500,000 shares to raise £2.75m.