Update: Here is a large list of developer and technology focused podcasts.
Apologies for the clickbait title. It’s not that extreme, but Podcasts have had a huge impact in my professional life over the last year. To understand how, we need to go back in time to late 2014.
At the time I had just finished a Lead Architect role, which was very hands off as you might imagine. I found the whole experience frustrating. I would see problems coming, but there was very little I could do about them. When they occurred, as predicted, I tended to be the focus for lots of pressure and I was the person that had to pick up the pieces.
My next role was a complete contrast. I was thrown into a project in its early stages that needed prototypes doing for various technologies. I had a passing understanding of some but no knowledge of others. After spending far too long out of the code my Impostor Syndrome was working overtime. I was slow to pick up the new technology, I was applying outdated concepts and I felt out of my depth having detailed conversations with other members of the team. The project demanded long hours initially, so there was little time for the background reading that would normally fill gaps in my knowledge.
I needed a way to rapidly get up to speed that fitted in with my daily work routine.
My commute to this client was 1 hour each way if I was lucky, and up to 2hrs if I wasn’t. I was already listening to comedy podcasts to manage the mind numbing boredom of commuting on Britain’s motorways and A roads at rush hour. Podcasts such as The Bugle, Frank Skinner & Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (RHLSTP, I’m a cool kid) were an excellent way to use my time commuting.
It occurred to me that if I added some technology focused podcasts to my rota it might help with the challenges I was having at work. After some initial searching I found SE Radio, DotNetRocks, HanselMinutes and some that were being put out by Thoughtworks. I was a little sceptical because looking at the show titles there didn’t seem to be much in common with the work I was doing.
At first I might not have understood all the details straight away but I found the content rubbing off on me. At work, when looking at some of the newer stuff I had a better appreciation of the IT landscape I was operating in. I was starting to better recognise the problems that certain technology was created to solve which gave me better understanding of how to apply it in my particular circumstances.
Over time conversations with colleagues changed. More and more I could support my points with context not just from my previous experience but also from things I had heard whilst driving to and from work. In a few short months I had plugged many the gaps that a year of working in a hands off role had created in my knowledge. As further benefit I could share my experiences as we ramped up the team later in the project. I created a hand-picked “listening” list for developers that covered some key concepts related to the project.
After a year it feels like I am regularly dipping into what is happening in the industry. Sometimes the show title might put me off but then, when I listen to it I might find a hidden gem, or sometime later the subject becomes relevant at work I have an advantage because I already have a passing understanding of it.
When I reflect on this I realise how important it is for technologists to have broad horizons. Often we get stuck working on the same project or same technology stack for several years. You will often hear people saying they have 3 years’ experience of this or 5 years’ experience of that. When you look closer you’ll find that some of these people have been repeating the same 6 months experience several times. I believe the wider horizon I have gained over the last year makes me more credible and makes me better at applying the appropriate solution to a problem and not just the one that I have the most experience in.
Podcasts didn’t save my life – they made me look up and look forwards in my professional life. They gave me renewed enthusiasm for technology and made my commute a little more bearable.