Recommended Listening: my favourite podcasts

I have a long commute, so blast through at least a couple of hours of podcasts every day. I enjoy polished efforts like those from Gimlet Media and NPR, but for me the real gold lies in the more unstructured efforts. Without any constraints of format or time, the best podcasts get to dive deep into topics that wouldn’t otherwise get covered.

The recent “podcast renaissance” has felt like a vindication. I’ve been trying
to get my peers to listen to podcasts for years (I even made my own podcast back in ’06, but the less said about that the better…). Following the mainstream breakthrough of Serial and the prevalence of shows with high production values (like those from Gimlet), the format is finally getting the attention it deserves.


Tech Podcasts

As a developer, I’m naturally drawn to the more technical end of the spectrum. I’m happiest when listening to an hour-long discussion about the intricacies of a new file format…

ShopTalk Show

Answering listener questions about front-end web development – alternate topic-based interviews and “rapid fire” Q&A shows.

Listen first: The Web-VR episode is a good example of the general tone of ShopTalk, but the best-ever episode was when host Chris interviewed the guy who hacked his site.

ATP

Discussion show about all things Apple. If you like geeking-out about file systems and enjoy endless debate about the next Mac Pro, this is the show for you.

Listen first: Best to just jump in at the latest episode, but I they go “big” on WWDC (Apple’s developer conference), so don’t start with one of those as they’re not representative of the rest of the episodes.

CodePen Radio

The team behind the CodePen web app give a behind the scenes look at what it’s like to run a tech startup.

Listen first: The episode about animation makes a good jumping-off point, but they cover a wide range of topics from server-setups to getting VC-funding to hiring to managing an online “community”, etc…

a16z

Archetypal Silicon Valley VC firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) present discussions on the hot tech topics of the day.

Listen first: A recent episode about Open Source was pretty good, but the episodes that feature the company founders, Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz are worth digging for.

The Creative Coding Podcast

A mix of game-dev tips’n’tricks and insights into the world of hardware hacking with Rpi-zeros, Arduinos, etc. (the clue is in the name!).

Listen first: I learnt a lot about how old-school Nintendo light-guns (Duck Hunt FTW!) worked from this episode.


Startups & Business Podcasts

I’ve long since discarded any genuine plans of entrepreneurship in favour of the life of a happy drone. But somewhere deep down the itch is still there, and I keep it in check by living vicariously through the exploits of others.

Startup

This is the big daddy. Not only a good series about what it’s like to start a business, but also a look into the inner machinations of podcasting itself. Meta. The more recent seasons look at other businesses, but season one was all about the founding of Gimlet Media. Host Alex Blumberg had a vision for what a podcast company could be, and documented his journey to get there.

First listen: This is a show that requires starting at the very beginning. Listening to Alex mess up a pitch to infamous VC Chris Sacca is radio gold, and the whole story is expertly told.

The Tim Ferriss Show

Tim’s approach to life is very easy to mock, and in many ways I find him a frustrating person to listen to. Yet he obliquely manages to get more out of his guests than most interviewers. He asks the questions I’d like to ask, and always pushes for more detail when I want to hear more detail.

First listen: The show works best when Tim gets total buy-in from his guest. The Seth Godin episodes are always good listens, but Seth is all about inspiring great work in others. I prefer to be inspired by stories straight from the horses mouth, so my favourite episode so far is probably the first Matt Mullenweg interview.

Planet Money

This one straddles the line between “business” and “general interest”. The stories are always interesting, and always have an economics angle to them. Much less “actionable” that the insights you get from the Tim Ferriss Show, for instance, but learning more about how the world around us works never did me any harm.

First listen: Episode #762 “The Fine Print” tells three short stories about what happens when you actually read the fine print. All the episodes are short, but generally tell one story. This trio serves as a nice potted introduction to the show’s style.

Boagworld

I used to class this show as a tech podcast, but in reality it’s much more focused on the mechanics of running a web business. Regular hosts Paul and Marcus are joined by a revolving door of guests, and each season has an over-arching theme that guides the conversations.

First listen: The 15th season was all about digital project management. When the season-wide topic was announced I groaned – could they have found a more boring subject to drag out over thirteen episodes?! To my surprise, however, it lead to a whole series of fascinating discussions.


General Interest Podcasts

I’m not a 100%-mission-focused robot, so I do occasionally listen to podcasts for nothing more than the sheer enjoyment of it.

Reply All

New episodes of Reply All jump straight to the top of my “must listen” playlist. The subject matter is

First listen: The episode on phishing (appropriately called “What Kind of Idiot Get’s Phished?”) was a real eye-opener, but was presented by one of the show’s producers. The long-term charm of the show comes down to the interactions between regular hosts Alex & PJ, so listen to a few episodes to get a true flavour.

More or Less

In a similar vein to Planet Money, but a little more irreverent and more interested in unpicking topical issues. A look at the numbers and statistics in the news and in life.

First listen: A recent episode on the Economics of Overbooking provided an interesting perspective on the United scandal (where a poor passenger was assaulted by staff on an overbooked flight).

To The F’ing Future

Epitome of American “Bros” talking nonsense, but some interesting discussions if you can get past the personalities. The basic idea is that they talk about “the future” of a different topic each week. Had a short run in 2013 and then stopped, which was a shame.

Listen first: Episode #5 (with Rob Auten) is an interesting look at what the state-of-the-art in video-game plot and characterisation was like in 2013, and what they thought the future would hold. Even more interesting when viewed from 2017; we can see what played out and what sank without trace. Episode #6 about tattooing was also fascinating.

Song Exploder

A geeky behind-the-scenes look at specific songs. Uses the original mixer-tracks to dig into how a song was constructed (often looking at early demos etc., too). If any of you remember the TV show Classic Albums, this is a lot like that but just for a single song.

Listen first: Episode #22: “Smells Like Content” by The Books

In Our Time

The BBC at its best: three experts around a table explaining a topic to Melvin Bragg. A normal Radio 4 programme, but having the archive available as podcasts is a fantastic resource. I tend to find the maths ones the most interesting, but part of the appeal is being introduced to a topic I’d never have learnt about otherwise.

Listen first: Take your pick – the topics are so varied it’s hard to mark any individual episode as “representative”. The IOT archive is a great place to start browsing.


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