The Value Of Listening to Programming Podcasts

Podcasts are great. You should subscribe and listen to some. They can provide a ton of value for a pretty low time investment.

This probably isn’t the first post out there to tout the value of listening to programming podcasts. And of course, it’s probably not hard to see why they are useful. But I did want to share some tips & tricks i’ve learned from listening to hundreds of hours of podcasts and what I found most helpful in getting the most out of them.

While a lot of the advice & tips here could apply just as well to podcasts of any kind (or even blogs for that matter), it is mainly being discussed in the context of listening to software or programming podcasts specifically.

First, in case you aren’t sold on the value, here are some reasons why you should listen to podcasts:

Know what’s going on in the industry

This one is probably pretty obvious. If you subscribe and stay current with a variety of popular podcasts, you will hear about current and contemporary programming languages, tools, paradigms, libraries, conferences and events – not to mention being exposed to notable thought leaders in the industry and in areas you may be interested in.

This can help you seem in the know in technical conversations (whether they be at work, meetups, conferences, etc.), and help you know just enough to be dangerous and speak intelligently or participate in conversations you otherwise would have felt completely out of touch with.

Now, you may think this sounds sneaky or disingenuous, but if you have the right attitude about it, it really isn’t. It can be a form of faking it until you make it. It can help you push yourself and grow, as you make your way to further proficiency.

It can make new things feel less intimidating

The more you know about other languages & technologies – sometimes even superficially, the less intimidated you will feel when you need to learn them later. Often when you need to learn a new thing, you lack the basic conceptual background, or understand the purpose or value of that thing. If you’ve heard a somewhat in-depth introduction to it in the past, you’ll have already completed this step in the learning process.

Know where things are going/what is making waves

Aside from hearing what many industry thought-leaders and experts have to say on the subject, you can get a real sense of it just by listening to lots of podcasts, hearing what is being discussed, issues/challenges/tradeoffs, etc. This can help you make decisions in your career about what you might want to learn next or where you want to invest your learning time in the future.

Once you start listening, here are some of my tips for getting the most out of podcasts:

Listen to many different podcasts

This should include programming podcasts on languages you don’t even use (or perhaps think you’ll ever use). You should always be open to new ideas and paradigms, and learning about other languages and ways of programming & thinking can only help you. In the best case, it might even turn you on to wanting to know more about that language. It is generally widely agreed that knowing more programming languages makes you a better programmer overall.

Listen to multiple podcasts on the same language/technology

Another important point along the same lines as the previous point is that you should be listening to multiple podcasts on the same languages, technologies or which have overlapping topics.

You want to get many different perspectives and personal experiences. Often someone explains something from a perspective you can’t relate to, so the point or relevance is lost on you. The more perspectives you get, the more likely you are to relate to the material; you may hear someone discuss the subject who thinks like you or is on the same wavelength and it just speaks to you on that subject.

Don’t ignore podcasts on subjects you’ve already heard

Very similar to the last point, but important for another reason.

I have had the experience several times of listening to a podcast on a subject and not really having it sink in because the podcast:

– covered a pretty dense or complex subject
– glossed over the subject
– discussed the subject from a less-technical perspective
– guest who was brought on to talk about it was speaking about it in a very specific context
– guest who was brought on to talk about it just plain sucked at explaining it

For example, the first time I heard a podcast about apache kafka, it kind of went over my head. I thought it was just for streaming with analytics systems and didn’t really apply to anything else. But then I heard this podcast with the creator of the library and it really clicked for me how powerful it could be as a general purpose distributed pub-sub system.

I had similar experiences when listening to other topics such as ReactJS, GraphQL, among others.

Listen to past episodes

Don’t just subscribe today and listen to new stuff that comes out. Go through the feed and look through all the past episodes to see if there’s other ones that seem interesting. As is often said, new things tend to be “built on the shoulders of giants” who came before and paved the way for them. Context is so important. Listening to past episodes (even ones that seem mostly historical) can provide super-valuable context that really help you understand and absorb current technologies and trends.

Podfaded podcasts are still valuable

Many podcasts get started up, seem promising, then quickly succumb to podfading. This does not mean they are not valuable. True, some of the content may become dated over time, but often there are timeless episodes which are a great listen.

They can also be great for just catching up on an area that may be vast or where a lot has happened.

Don’t rule these out.

Listen at 1.5x speed

OK, this isn’t for everybody but it can be a real time-saver and allow you to listen to more podcasts in a shorter span of time. I find 1.5x to minimize much of the unnecessary pauses and still be totally listenable. For me 2x is too fast. 1.5x seems to be the sweet spot. I encourage you to try it out before dismissing it. You may find that once you listen at 1.5x, normal speed will seem excruciatingly slow!

OK, so hopefully i’ve convinced you of the value and provided you some useful suggestions for navigating the world of programming podcasts. It’s time to subscribe to some podcasts!

Below are some of my recommendations. Note: this is not an exhaustive list; you should by all means look around for more and ones which may be more specific to your interests. These are ones I have found to be consistently high quality in terms of the guests and subject matter, as well as the regularity of new episodes.

Some recommendations

  • Software Engineering Radio – a great long-running podcast on software engineering. Great guests and thought leaders in the software industry. The downside of this podcast is that episodes usually only come out monthly and subjects covered here are generally covered after they are somewhat established and covered elsewhere. If you can’t keep up with the more frequent podcasts or have less time, this one can be a great choice to get many of the highlights in the industry.
  • The Changelog – Excellent podcast for knowing what’s going on in the world of open-source. Episodes are generally weekly and cover lots of interesting material. Virtually all of the interesting things happening in the software world these days are happening in open source, so this is a great place to hear about what’s new and emerging in that space.
  • Software Engineering Daily – A recent addition on the software podcast scene, this is an amazingly prolific podcast interviewing lots of very interesting and high-profile guests. It can be hard to keep up with this podcast since new episodes come out daily and are long format (~1 hr) so you may need to pick and choose based on the subjects that interest you.
  • Functional Geekery – A great podcast on functional programming. Gives a great introduction into many different functional languages & libraries. Great guests. There are generally new episodes every week.

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