2016-04-25

Limits of technical podcasting

Podcasts about programming are all the same. Sure, hosts and topics are different, but the format is the same. And this format – it has it's limitations.

For a long time I thought this was the way to do podcasting – you gather with your friends and discuss recent news, things you like and things you don't. Sometimes you interview people to get an outside perspective. All of this is recorded and then, after little polishing, you release it.

I think it's an excellent way to introduce listeners to new techniques and to developers in their community. This format has served well to shows like Ruby5, JSJabber, Mostly Erlang and many others. I'm one of the hosts of a podcast like that. It's called RadioJS, it's about JavaScript and it's in Russian.

On the other hand, there's a ton of subjects it's hard to talk about on these podcasts: abstract concepts like design patterns, complicated systems like the Internet and so on. Unless hosts know a lot about the topic and have spoken publicly about it, it's hard to record a coherent story in one take.

Interviews on these shows are often shallow. "What are you working on?" "How did you get into programming?" "What does your library/framework do?" Those dialogs are not very technical. I feel like they often miss an opportunity to dive deep into person's work. Also, because it's usually one guest per episode, there's no perspective. How are other people solving similar problem? What do they have to say about alternative solutions? These questions spin in my head as I listen to an episode.

There's more to podcasting

We live in a golden age of podcasting. People make so many kinds of shows: long form and short form, comedy and detective, narrative and conversational.

Several months ago I've stumbled upon a show called StartUp. It's a podcast about building a business. When I first heard it, I was amazed. The quality of the show, the story, everything was done very professionally. I`ve never heard anything like this.

Later I've discovered Ted Radio Hour, Freekonomics and Planet Money. Their format was different too. They would take one topic every episode and explore it in depth from various perspectives. I knew it was time for a different kind of a programming podcast, these shows gave me an idea about what to try first.

Significant bits

Together with my good friend Michael Beschastnov we've launched this experiment. We'd choose one coding concept every episode, take several interviews, heavily edit them, add music and try to make a story out of it. We would talk usage, implementations and alternative solutions. We would give a comprehensive overview of a technical concept in 30 minutes or less.

We believe that ideas are more important than programming languages or libraries or other tools. Once you understand the concept, it doesn't matter if it's implemented in Python or in Node or in Haskell. You get how it works. With this knowledge you can write new and debug existing code. Often you don't even have to memorize the syntax of a target language to do that.

This is our goal – share concepts in programming that we find fascinating and make an entertaining story out of it.

Explore

We love how this experiment is going so far. There're things we like about Code and things we don't, but the process of making it is super fun. Seeing listeners feedback is very rewarding.

At this moment we have released 3 episodes. They make up one series entitled "Concurrency". The show is taking shape, but we still have a backlog of ideas to try.

We have dived into one format, but there are so many others. Programming podcasts are all the same nowadays, but it doesn't have to be like that. I would encourage you to experiment. Think of an idea for a show and then just record it! Record one episode and share it with your friends and colleagues or put it out on iTunes or SoundCloud. Send it to us, we are always searching for new ways to do technical podcasting. If you don't have time to record it – send the idea anyway!

There's a lot to explore in the world of programming podcasts, let's kick off the scouting!


Andrey Salomatin

@filipovskii

andrey@codepodcast.com