Brain Food To Go

Want to know how you can increase your intellect (and indirectly, your salary) during your commute? I have one word: Podcasts.

Whatever profession you work in, there are experts out there dispensing free advice over the airwaves. Just by tuning in whenever you have a drive or a spare moment, you can stay on top of current trends, learn about new products or techniques, become acquainted with new terminology and concepts, and generally enrich yourself.

Talk the Talk

I went on an interview about a year ago armed with my portfolio of over two dozen websites and applications, along with my extensive work history. To my chagrin, the interview was not set up for me to present my work. Instead, I was barraged with questions for hours from three developers sitting across from me like the judges on the American Idol outtakes. Several questions went something like this:

“Do you have any experience working with X?”

“Um…I’m not sure. I’ve never heard of X.”

(interviewers glance somewhat skeptical at one another)

“Let me explain. X is the process where you …”

“Oh, ok. I have done that before, I just haven’t heard it called that.”

Doesn’t exactly get them on the edge of their seat at that point. Even though there’s often several ways to do something, people are often taken aback if you haven’t done it their way before, or even if you have but you called it something different.

The point is that podcasts introduce you to new acronyms, terms and phrases which will eventually become part of your language. In software development especially, understanding these terms allows you to explain concepts and converse with your peers more eloquently. The end result is that you sound like you know what you’re doing. You sound like you’ve done it before and you sound more confident. This is useful for interviews, meetings and discussions where you have to sell your ideas.

Memory Hooks

Another great benefit I’ve found is that when I have to learn a new tool or skill, all these hidden memories of a podcast will come flooding back. Even if I didn’t fully understand what they were talking about, I picked up on bits and pieces. New concepts become much easier to grasp as you’re filling in the blanks instead of starting from scratch. Then, if I re-listen to a podcast after I have experience with the topic of discussion, I get much more out of it the second time. Most products and techniques are a solution to a problem. If I’ve experienced that problem and had to fix it myself, I may will think “Wow, that would have saved me a lot of time. I’ll try that next time.”

Additionally, I will often hear an idea and begin to brainstorm my own ideas (I may have to pause and backup a show but that’s okay). Listening to a podcast in the morning wakes up your brain and gets you into “work mode” more than, say, Howard Stern. Unless perhaps you’re a professional womens’ mud wrestling referee.

Some Unpaid Advertising

I use the Beyond Pod app on my droid, a $7 investment. As a developer in the Microsoft space, my current favorite podcasts are .NET Rocks, Hanselminutes, and Herding Code. I tried Codecast and Alt.Net but did not find them as beneficial.

I sometimes get bored of code casts, so I branched out into some popular casts Stuff To Blow Your Mind and Stuff You Should Know, from howstuffworks.com. Even off topic casts can give you some more interesting conversations, which can allow you to connect with those outside of your area of expertise, like friends and family, your manager, and the owner of your company. Code abstraction patterns don’t make for a great ice breaker.

And of course there are still times when the droning voices aren’t enough to keep me alert in traffic and I just need to rock out. Then I switch to Pandora.

 

 

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