Describing itself as “an immersive upskilling platform for software developers,” Israeli startup Wilco sneaked out this week with its first public release and a stash box with $7 million in new seed funding. It’s weird enough that I absolutely love it.
The problem the company is trying to solve is the bewildering array of options available to a freshly minted, wet behind-the-ear software developer. It turns out that being able to write software is only a small part of the job. In addition, you need to develop a wide range of sills that don’t write code, but are just as important. These can be strategies for debugging complex systems, team communication, and responding to high-pressure crisis situations. The theory is that these skills are difficult to acquire without real-world experience, and can be daunting. Why not do the same thing airline pilots have to do before taking the wheel on a plane? (Can you see I’m not a pilot) That’s right, Wilco has developed some kind of simulator.
On Wilco’s platform, developers join an invented technology company and are tried out in a game-like experience designed to accelerate their professional growth. In their “new workplace”, engineers embark on quests that challenge them to navigate complex real-life scenarios while using real tools and technologies.
One quest begins with the developer being notified of a mysterious problem with the company’s application through the workplace messaging app. The developer must analyze data to identify the affected users, recreate the problem on their own device, find the problematic code, and push their solution to the company’s code repository on Github. If necessary, guidance of virtual colleagues is provided via the messaging app, simulating a modern remote work environment.
“One of the key challenges I’ve faced throughout my career as a technical leader has been finding ways to nurture talent and ensure the continued growth of every team member,” said Farhan Thawar, VP of Engineering at Shopify, and an angel investor in the company, through one of Wilco’s press contacts. “That got me so excited when I tried the Wilco platform – the real-world environment took me back to my early days as a contributor to the development team and the technical scenarios focused on those abstract skills that are so hard to learn.”
I interviewed the company’s CEO, On Freund, to find out more.
TC: Why are you excited about this company?
OR: When we first started out, my co-founder Alon said that if Wilco had existed, he would just join the company instead of starting a new one. That’s really how we feel – we failed to be founders; we’re in it because we believe in what we do. We see the passion developers have for our problem space. Almost everyone we talk to understands right away – they’ve all experienced how difficult it is for them and their teams to develop new skills. The use cases we see are all net positive for the individual – helping them develop themselves professionally in an innovative way – but there is also a broad social benefit for Wilco in making professional development opportunities more accessible and equitable.
What’s Wrong With Software Engineer Training Right Now?
OR: The best way developers need to improve their skills these days is at work, but that’s both slow and inefficient. You have to wait for a certain situation to arise to practice a skill. However, it’s not often that you have to completely redesign an outdated app component or set up a new pipeline because your product becomes unexpectedly popular. You have to wait for a production crisis to naturally occur to learn how to deal with it (I don’t recommend making your own 🙂 ). Even if a crisis occurs, chances are the person dealing with it is someone who’s seen this a thousand times.
That’s only the first problem, though: if you get the chance to “practice,” you’re not really in a practice environment and have to live with the fear of breaking something. Software errors can easily become costly.
Last but not least, only practice on the job has an equal opportunity issue. Two developers starting at the same time but ending up in different teams can have a very different outcome, based on the people working alongside them, the mentors they have, the type of assignments they get, and their employer’s willingness to pay expensive fees. tolerate mistakes in order to train them. When it comes to people from underrepresented groups, it’s less common for them to reach the kind of 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?
OR: Building Wilco would have made sense even ten years ago, but after COVID-19 forced the world into a remote work environment, it’s more relevant than ever. We do “real” remote work, so why not simulate a remote workplace to master and learn skills?
How was the fundraiser?
OR: There’s a cliche that investors always want to see traction, and the right amount of traction is just a little more than what you have. That’s why we immediately started pitching Wilco to every engineer and engineering manager we could talk to. Being able to show both bottom-up and top-down interest made fundraising significantly easier.
Another thing that worked well for us is a very focused approach – we knew who the right investors for Wilco were, and that made the pitch so much more effective. While this may not be the best time to raise a round, I believe that carefully choosing the investors you pitch to can go a long way.
Are you satisfied with your investors? Why?
OR: Very bad! And no, I’m not saying it because I feel obligated. Each of our investors not only understands Wilco’s potential and believes in our mission, but has also given us strategic guidance throughout our journey. I believe we have selected 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 today, I have more confidence than ever in our choice of investors.
What are you personally most excited about at Wilco?
OR: Alon, Shem and I have known each other for many years, and what we build together comes from solving a need we experienced firsthand in previous roles. While we’ve all approached this from a slightly different angle, we all wish we had a way to get our developers to practice their skills on an ongoing basis.
Plus, I’m honestly just really excited about the team we’ve brought in and the culture we’ve all built together. One of our goals is to build a fun and supportive workplace, and we really invest in making that happen.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next 18 or so months?
OR: The most important thing we want to achieve is to provide validation for the ongoing impact Wilco can have on an engineer’s professional development. By inviting hundreds of developers to try the platform before launch, we got a strong validation of Wilco’s ability to provide immediate value. Now we want to see that in a year and a half we can accelerate the growth of developers and continuously help them acquire and practice new skills. In practice, we’ve got a lot to do – including expanding our catalog and adding quest creation tools – and there’s a business edition to think about. We also want to bring in additional business partners to create quests with us. We think Wilco is a great way for developers targeting companies to bring hands-on experience with their products to their developer communities.
If Wilco achieves every goal, every dream and every milestone, what will the world look like in 5 years?
OR: What we want is for engineers to be able to develop professionally with Wilco throughout their careers. What would it look like? Here are a few examples:
After learning to code, a recent graduate or self-taught engineer is given the opportunity to gain skills even before they land their first job, increasing their technical interview opportunities and joining a team that reflects their potential rather than the opportunities they present. to have. has been given before.
Engineering teams don’t have to wait for crises to arise or new challenges to pass through the roadmap. They can continuously retrain, practice for real-life scenarios and expose themselves to the latest technologies.
Experienced engineers will have less of a need to move on to a job they really like, simply because it doesn’t expose them to new challenges. It’s a very common scenario: you love the company, the team, but professionally it’s no longer the right place for you because you’ve stopped evolving and growing. At Wilco, you won’t be torn between those two competing motivations.
We talk a lot about unlocking the potential of engineers. I know it probably sounds like marketing language, but think about it: it is indeed something that needs to be unlocked. People aren’t born with the knowledge of how to run a development cycle, or how to find bugs in production, and theoretical knowledge you gain in a course or a classroom is only half the equation – there’s the on-the- work muscle they must train by undergoing scenario after scenario. Professional flight simulators do that for pilots, making air travel safer for everyone. What will Wilco’s impact be if our ‘flight simulator for engineers’ operates on a large scale? I can’t wait to find out!
You mentioned that for Quests you partner with ‘real’ companies. What are these quest partnerships?
OR: In addition to building our own missions, Wilco also offers missions built with other companies, such as New Relic, JFrog, and Applitools. These companies already invest heavily in developer advocacy, but blog posts, podcasts, videos and the like can only get you so far. Wilco allows them to create content that is both attractive to third-party developers and provides them with hands-on practice.
For the individual developer, this means that if they want to get better at a skill like observability, they can gain hands-on experience using real production tools to solve a real-life problem, using quests developed by the best experts in the field. the field.
Thanks to On Freund for being willing to do the interview via email during a busy week when we couldn’t find time to talk on the phone.
Personally, I’m a self-taught software developer, and I can totally understand how if I wanted to make the step back into software development, getting a taste of what life is like on the coalfield of software development would be fantastically valuable; it will be interesting to see how the company evolves and grows.
The funding round was led by Hetz Ventures, with participation from Vertex Ventures, Flybridge Capital Partners, Shopify’s VP Engineering Farhan Thawar and others.
I managed to convince the Wilco team to share its pitch deck with me too, so look forward to a Pitch Deck Teardown to see what the company did to increase its round in the coming weeks!