Wilco turns your programming career into a game

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Israeli startup Wilco describes itself as “an immersive learning platform for software developers” and broke out of secrecy this week with its first public version and a stash of $7 million in new seed funding. Oddly enough, this is something I really love.

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The problem the company is trying to solve is the bewildering array of options available to the freshly-baked, over-the-ears software developer. It turns out that the ability to write programs is only a small part of the job. In addition, you need to develop a wide range of skills that are not coding but are just as important. This may include debugging strategies for complex systems, team communication, high-pressure crisis response. The theory is that these skills are difficult to acquire without experience in the real world and can be intimidating. Why not do the same thing airline pilots do before getting behind the wheel of a plane? (Can you tell I’m not a pilot) That’s right, Wilco has developed a kind of simulator.

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On the Wilco platform, developers join a fictitious technology company and are challenged in a playful way designed to accelerate their professional growth. At their “new workplace”, engineers go on quests that force them to navigate complex realistic scenarios using real tools and technology.

One quest begins with a developer receiving a notification via a workplace messaging app about a mysterious problem with the company’s app. The developer must analyze the data to identify the affected users, recreate the issue on their own device, find the problematic code, and push the fix to the company’s code repository on Github. When needed, guidance from virtual colleagues is provided through a messaging app that mimics a modern remote work environment.

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Various Wilco quests will help you on your developer journey

“One of the critical challenges that I have faced throughout my career as an engineering manager is finding ways to nurture talent and ensure the continued growth of every team member,” said Farhan Tawar, VP of Engineering at Shopify and Angel Investor. companies. , through one of Wilco’s press contacts. “That’s what got me so excited when I tried the Wilco platform – the realistic environment brought me back to my early days on a development team, and the engineering scenarios dealt with exactly those abstract skills that are so hard to teach.”

To find out more, I interviewed the company’s CEO, On Freund.

TC: Why are you excited about this company?

OF: When we first started, my co-founder Alon said that if Wilco already existed, he would just join the company, not create a new one. That’s really how we feel – we didn’t become founders; we are in it because we believe in what we do. We see the passion of developers for our problem space. Almost everyone we talk to understands this immediately—they have all experienced first hand how difficult it is for them and their teams to develop new skills. All of the use cases we see are positive for individuals in helping them develop professionally in innovative ways, but Wilco also delivers broad societal benefits by making professional development opportunities more accessible and equitable.

What is currently not working in software engineering training?

OF: The best way to improve your skills today is to work, but it’s slow and inefficient. You need to wait for a specific situation to develop in order to practice the skill. However, it’s not often that you have to completely redesign an obsolete application component or set up a new pipeline on the fly because your product experiences an unexpected surge in popularity. You need to wait for the natural occurrence of a production crisis in order to learn how to cope with it (I do not recommend creating your own :)). Even when a crisis occurs, it is likely to be handled by someone who has seen it a thousand times.

But this is only the first problem – when you have the opportunity to “practice”, you are not really in a training environment and you have to live with the fear of breaking something. Software bugs can easily lead to costly consequences.

Last but not least, work-only practice is linked to the issue of equal opportunity. Two developers who start at the same time but end up on different teams can have vastly different outcomes depending on the people who work alongside them, the mentors they have, the types of assignments they receive, and their employer’s willingness to tolerate costly mistakes. to train them. When it comes to people from underrepresented groups, they are less likely to be placed on teams that allow them to quickly close the experience gap and reach their full potential.

Why do you think now is the right time for Wilco?

OF: Creating Wilco would have made sense ten years ago, but after COVID-19 forced the world to move to a remote work environment, it has become more relevant than ever. We do “real” work remotely, so why not simulate a remote workplace to learn and master skills?

What was your fundraising experience like?

OF: There is a cliché that investors always want to see support, and the right amount of support is a little more than what you have. That’s why we immediately started talking about Wilco to every engineer and engineering manager we could talk to. The ability to show interest both bottom-up and top-down made fundraising much easier.

Another thing that worked well for us is a very focused approach – we knew who the right investors were for Wilco and that made the presentation a lot more effective. While this may not be the best time to round, I believe careful selection of the investors you pitch to can make a big difference.

Are you satisfied with your investors? Why?

OF: Very much so! And no, I’m not saying this because I feel obligated. Each of our investors not only understands Wilco’s potential and believes in our mission, but also gives us strategic guidance along the way. I believe that we have chosen partners who are suitable not only for this stage of our journey, but also for years to come. With everything going on in the industry these days, I’m more confident than ever in our choice of investors.

What are you personally most excited about Wilco?

OF: Alon, Shem and I have known each other for many years and what we create together is based on addressing a need we have experienced in previous roles. While each of us approached this from a slightly different perspective, we all wished we had some way to get our developers to constantly practice their skills.

Also, I’m honestly very excited about the team we’ve put together and the culture we’ve all created together. One of our goals is to create a fun and supportive workplace, and we’re really investing in that.

What do you hope to achieve over the next 18 or so months?

OF: The most important thing we want to achieve is to confirm the ongoing impact that Wilco can have on the professional development of an engineer. By inviting hundreds of developers to try out the platform ahead of launch, we have proven Wilco’s ability to deliver immediate value. Now we want to see that in a year and a half, we can accelerate the growth of developers and constantly help them acquire and practice new skills. We have a lot of things to do in practice, including expanding our catalog and adding quest creation tools, and there’s a business version to consider. We also want to attract additional business partners to co-create quests with us. We believe that Wilco is a great way for developer-focused companies to provide their developer communities with hands-on experience with their products.

If Wilco achieves every goal, dream and milestone, how will the world be different in 5 years?

OF: We want engineers to develop professionally by using Wilco throughout their careers. How would it look? Here are some examples:

After learning how to code, a recent graduate or self-taught engineer will have the opportunity to acquire skills before they even get their first job, which will increase the chances of successfully passing a technical interview and being placed on a team that reflects their potential, not capabilities. were given earlier.

Engineering teams won’t have to wait for crises to arise or new tasks to be set according to the roadmap. They will be able to constantly improve their skills, practice in real scenarios and get acquainted with the latest technologies.

Experienced engineers will be less willing to leave a job they really enjoy simply because it doesn’t challenge them. This is a very common scenario: you love the company, you love the team, but professionally it no longer suits you, because you have stopped developing and growing. With Wilco, you won’t be torn between these two competing motives.

We talk a lot about unleashing the potential of engineers. I know this probably sounds like a marketing stunt, but think about it: this is really something to reveal. People are not born with the knowledge of how to manage the development life cycle or how to find bugs in production, and the theoretical knowledge you gain in a course or classroom is only half the equation. – working muscles that they need to train, being exposed to scenario after scenario. Professional flight simulators do this for pilots, making air travel safer for everyone. What will be the impact of Wilco if our “flight simulator for engineers” goes live on a large scale? I can’t wait to find out!

You mentioned that you are building partnerships with “real” companies for Quests. What are these partner quests?

OF: In addition to creating their own quests, Wilco will offer quests created in collaboration with other companies such as New Relic, JFrog and Applitools. These companies are already investing heavily in developer advocacy, but blog posts, podcasts, videos, and the like can only get you far ahead. With the help of Wilco, they can create content that engages third-party developers and gives them hands-on experience.

For the individual developer, this means that if they want to improve their observation skill, they can get hands-on experience using real production tools to solve a real problem using quests designed by leading experts in the field.

Thanks to On Freund for being willing to do an email interview during a busy week when we didn’t have time to talk on the phone.

Personally, I am a self-taught software developer, and I am well aware that if I wanted to return to software development, it would be fantastically useful for me to get a feel for what life is like on the coal stove of software development; It will be interesting to see how the company develops and grows.

The funding round was led by Hetz Ventures with Vertex Ventures, Flybridge Capital Partners, Shopify VP of Engineering Farhan Tawar and others.

I managed to convince the Wilco team to share their pitch deck with me, so look forward to tearing down the pitch deck to see what the company has done to raise their round in the next couple of weeks!

Credit: techcrunch.com /

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