It’s the end of the year, and it seems that people are going to be getting all sorts of new devices for the holidays. Smartphones, tablets, computers, etc. will likely be purchased by many, and with those purchases will be a need to fill them. In my personal opinion, while video tutorials and such are cool and all, nothing is as portable, engaging and good for short bursts of calm time, semi-active physical exertion or long road/air trips than podcasts.
Thus, in the spirit of giving, I would like to give everyone a taste of my current listening habits, my podcasts of choice. Some of these have been with me for years, some are relatively new, all of them are informative and engaging (well, at least I think so).
Additionally, I have also included websites with background info and storage for previous episodes. All are free for newer episodes, some sites charge for back catalog items. Most of course appreciate donations to help them keep the shows going, so by all means, if you can offer them support to keep producing stuff you like, hey, show a little love :)!
And now, without further ado…
Alan Page and Brent Jenson (AB testing, get it ;)?) talk about a variety of software testing topics and their combined four decades of experience, as well as their own meandering thoughts and topics that happen to come into their heads. Both Alan and Brent are long time Microsoft veterans, so there is, of course, a Microsoft flavor to the podcast, but don’t think that just because you don’t live and work in a Microsoft shop that this isn’t for you. There’s plenty to keep a tester (or anyone interested in software quality, regardless of role) interested. What I love about this is that it’s done in a very casual tone, as though they are just kicking back with a couple of beers and ranting about the topics that come up (please note: I have no idea if they are kicking back with beers as they do their podcast, it’s just the vibe it gives me, and I love it :) ).
Back to Work
Two hundred episodes in, this is still one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann generate a lot of banter in their podcasts, and for those who want the business end of the podcast each week, I’ll help you now with this tip, just fast forward twenty minutes and you’ll be much happier. However, if you’ve been with the show since the beginning, you’ll know that some of the most fun parts of the show actually take place in these twenty minutes, as well as the banter that carries over every show. It’s goofy, messy, often unfocused, but filled with gems if your goal is to really get into the things that make for creative work. Oh, and don’t be surprised if, after a few weeks of listening, you start to look forward to the rambling intros, because you feel like you are getting a glimpse at two of your friends just kicking it and getting caught up on what matters to them, only part of which is the actual podcast.
Common Sense with Dan Carlin
This is the first of two “indispensable” podcasts for me, ones I have listened to for several years, and that I consider the “gold standard” of what the podcast medium can deliver. Dan Carlin is a cantankerous, fast talking, highly caffeinated and animated commenter who bills himself as being “political by way of Mars”. Dan is based in the U.S., and many of the topics he covers are from a U.S.perspective, but what makes Dan different is he refuses to approach problems or issues from a partisan position. For tester looking to exercise their critical thinking skills when it comes to political topics, this podcast is a jewel.
The subtitle of this podcast is “The Hidden Side of Everything”, and it tends to remain true to that tagline. Stephen Dubner and Steven Leavitt are the hosts of this eclectic show that mostly looks at economics, but is wonderful for testers because it looks at teasing out what the data tells us about a variety of topics. We think we understand how things work, and why the world looks the way it does, but very often, the hidden realities go counter to the agreed to narrative. Often controversial, always fascinating.
Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
This is the first of the “Quick and Dirty Tips” podcasts that I follow, and the fact that I fancy myself a bit of a writer on the side of being a software tester, it should come as no surprise that I would appreciate a regular infusion of grammar and interesting ways to improve my game as a writer. Grammar Girl is hosted by Mignon Fogarty, and is full of interesting tips and tidbits about language, grammar construction, writing tropes, and etymology. There are as of this writing 446 episodes. That’s a lot of potential grammar tips, and while you may not want to listen to every one of them, you will not surprise me in the slightest if you come back and tell me you have heard them all ;).
Hardcore History with Dan Carlin
Of all the podcasts I listen to, most of the episodes are listened to once or twice, and then I delete the ones I listened to already. I do not delete episodes of Hardcore History! I have saved every one of them since the beginning, and I have listened to each episodes multiple times (and that’s no small feat, considering several of the Hardcore History podcast episodes are multiple hours long). Dan Carlin uses the same “Martian” approach to thinking as used in the Common Sense podcast and applies it to historical events. Earlier podcasts were brief entries, while the most recent podcasts would count as full audio books. Dan has a style of delivery that is dramatic, intense, and for me personally, enthralling. Many of the podcasts are continuous series. He’s currently doing a multi part series on the causes and effects of the First World War. The combined total time for this series (titled 'Countdown to Armageddon") is currently almost fourteen hours, with more episodes still to come. Do not be surprised if you find yourself listening for hours at a time. In my opinion, Hardcore History is the perfect long drive or long flight companion, and is still, to me, the gold standard of podcasting.
Stephen West hosts this podcast that endeavors to be a chronological exploration of philosophy and epistemology, and if listened to in order, does a very good job of being exactly that. Stephen goes to great lengths to keep a consistent narrative between episodes, and flashes back to what previous philosophers have said to help develop the context for current episodes. He mixes in modern metaphors to help make some of the esoteric bits make sense, and it makes for an overall very enjoyable and interesting series.
Hosted by NPR, and born from the wreckage of the 2008 Financial Crisis, Planet Money has a similar feel and approach to Freakonomics. It’s a very economics based program, with a smattering of finance and a lot of current events, and much like Freakonomics, ventures into territory that is unexpected and open to interpretation. If you think you know that’s going on, you may be surprised to realize how different things look when you “follow the money”.
Ruby Rogues is a revolving cast of commenters, many of which are well known in the Ruby world, and frequently feature guests that talk about a variety of programming topics. I started listening to Ruby Rogues when I worked at a primarily Ruby and Rails shop, and while I have moved on to a work environment that uses different languages, I still listen regularly to this well done and well presented podcast. You do not have to be a Rubyist to reap benefits from listening to the show, but if you are familiar with Ruby, it makes each episode that much more interesting.
Savvy Psychologist: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Mental Health
This is another Quick and Dirty Tips podcast I enjoy following, and I became interested in it due to some of the challenges I’ve dealt with around my own diagnosis and repeated wrestling with issues related to ADHD. Dr. Ellen Hendrickson tackles a variety of psychological challenges, puts it in terms that every day people can understand and relate to, covering topics such as procrastination, anxiety, depression, motivation, mood and creativity. Understanding the challenges we all face helps us relate better to those we interact with, as well as ourselves.
Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project
You may know Adam Savage from his ten year plus run on the Discover Channel’s “Mythbusters”, but this series goes beyond his most well known career choice and talks about his involvement with special effects, the maker movement, and tests and explorations related to oddball interests. If you enjoy the Mythbusters approach and delivery, you’ll probably enjoy this podcast, too.
Stuff You Missed in History Class
As my interest in Hardcore History will likely tell you, I am a fan of history. I love the obscure and interesting bits and the connection to us today. However, Dan Carlin puts such time and attention to each episode, it can be months between episodes. This podcast (which is part of the “How Stuff Works” series of podcasts) is a twice a week history snack fest. Shows cover a wide variety of topics, often focusing on the weird or unusual. It’s great fun and a must listen for the avid history buff.
Stuff You Should Know
How did leper colonies come into being? What is terraforming? What did the enlightenment actually “enlighten”? If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about these things, and literally hundred more areas, then this podcast is right up your alley. Twice a week, the podcast covers interesting and unique topics that, when taken together, cover all sorts of areas that I may know a little bit about, but I always learn just a little bit more. If the idea of learning more about rogue waves, X-rays, and stem cells interests you, then this is a great destination.
TED Radio Hour
If you’ve ever seen or heard a TED talk, you know the format and approach. TED Stands for “Technology, Entertainment and Design”, and each hour long episode is based around a theme, with a talk from one or several presenters to build each themed episode. Programs range from games and gaming and how it relates to psychological development, to self determined education in Africa, to working with perceptions, to our relationship with animals. Guy Raz hosts this weekly podcast, and each week is a unique exploration into the unexpected.
Again, these are my favorites for this year and as of today. Next year, this list may be entirely different (though some will probably be perennial favorites). Here’s hoping some of these will be interesting to you, and hey, if you have some favorites you’d like to share, please post them in the comments below.