Segment + Wilco: The Quest for better learning options

Introducing Wilco - a platform for hands-on tech learning with real-world simulations. It encourages readers to try Wilco for free.

By Ben Link, Developer Advocate @ Twilio Segment, Shem Magnezi, CTO @ Wilco

I’m approaching the 20-year mark in my career, and let me tell you… what a wild ride!  One of the things I love the most about working in tech is that I am always in a learning mode… the rate at which I uncover more things to learn is a lot faster than I can ever hope to learn them!  It seems that almost every morning there’s some new discovery in a different facet of the tech industry, and every one of these discoveries promises to completely rewrite the manual for us.  Back when my interest in computers was first born, it was common for folks to have large books, printed on physical paper, on the languages and frameworks that they used.  These reference guides weren’t just for holding doors open - they were regularly referenced by even seasoned pros who were looking for some bit of syntax or a method name that the programmer couldn’t fully remember because it was only used on a rare occasion. 

Access to this kind of manual was scarce, especially if you were a kid like me who couldn’t afford the $40-$80 price tag frequently for a book.  And if, like me, you lived in a small town, you couldn’t find anything like that at your local library, either… so you either learned programming by trial and error or you got lucky enough to know someone who had some resources you could borrow.  Asking questions of the seasoned professionals still got you a lot of “go read the manual, Junior.” type responses from the gruff old programmers and sysadmins who just didn’t want to be bothered by some pip-squeak who didn’t know anything.

Today, it’s possible to literally change careers into tech, from some other completely unrelated field, just using your internet connection to obtain what you need in order to learn. Want to learn a new programming language?  A couple of youtube videos and some freecodecamp, and you’re able to be productive in about a week.  Want to learn this week’s hot new JS framework (my gosh, how many do we really need)?  That would probably take you a weekend.  I believe that 15-year-old me would be absolutely blown away by how easy it is to acquire information now - and if I’m being completely honest, he would be a bit jealous too.  If I had this level of access to educational material back then, my career would have covered a lot more ground in those early years!

Passive learning !== retaining

Reading a book, watching a video, or listening to a podcast are all useful and valuable to a point, but these styles of learning very quickly reach an efficiency limit.  When we’re learning passively, our attention can drift, even if we’re extremely excited about the material being covered, because we aren’t engaged in the process.  

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” 

–Benjamin Franklin


We’re much more likely to retain if we can actually do the work and learn from the experience! The best way to actually learn a skill is by doing it in a low-risk environment.  That last part, about the environment, is critical - it must be low-risk so that you can be free to absolutely foul it up.  This liberates you from the negative consequences of failing, and allows you to experiment in ways you wouldn’t if it was your production environment.  

Enter Wilco

When we at Twilio Segment met with Wilco for the first time, we got excited.  While we know there’s tremendous value in a Customer Data Platform, it can be tough to rapidly demonstrate it… because there’s so much “other stuff” you have to set up to show how the CDP works!  And that’s exactly what Wilco brings to the table… 

The Wilco experience is an immersive journey through a product or technology, as if you’re working in a company where it’s your job to implement it.  The whole environment is built around the concept of making you feel as if you’re doing this in production, but… you’re not.  As you might imagine, we wanted to try it out right away.  The Wilco team built a basic Segment quest and sent it to us to review.

What we found most refreshing right out of the gate was that Wilco is not simulating the work.  When you learn Segment through our quest, you’re actually implementing a real Segment workspace against an actual application.  It’s still a degree of “simulation”, of course - the app runs in a GitHub CodeSpace rather than live on the web, but all the important moving parts are real.

As you complete the Segment quest, you’ll create your workspace, configure it to listen for events from a real website, and connect the data to Mixpanel.  In about an hour and a half, you can have the full Segment implementation completed (in a condensed format, of course) and gain a tremendous amount of experience making Segment work.  

It’s not *only* for Segment

Do you need to learn git, or how to debug an application using observability tools?  Do you have other tools in your stack that you need to learn how to implement?  Wilco has a library of quests on a variety of topics that can help you level up your skills in lots of categories.  So - when you’ve finished learning how to connect your Segment CDP to gather events into customer profiles, you can try some other quests and learn some other skills too.  

Try it free

I don’t want you to take my word for it.  I want you to go and try it out - see if it helps you learn, see if it’s worth it to share with a friend who’s learning, see if your understanding improves.  To that end, we made sure that our quest doesn’t require you to have any upgraded features of Segment.  By the time you finish it, you should have a good understanding of Segment’s foundations, and perhaps some ideas about what your second experiment should look like!

Click here to get started.

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