My Experience as a Software Engineering Radio host
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I just finished my first year as a volunteer host for Software Engineering Radio. Over the last year I recorded five episodes and they have now all aired and are available on their website or through any podcasting app.
This post is about how I got involved with the show and what it’s like to be a host. In March 2020, right when COVID was starting to take off, I wrote Robert Blumen. He’s the show editor for Software Engineering Radio and I told him I was interested in becoming a volunteer host for the podcast.
I heard back promptly, but I was put on the waiting list. In the meantime, while we were all stuck at home during the first months of COVID, I recorded a silly YouTube show with my teenage son called Planet Couch.
This was an outlet and bonding experience for my son and me during stressful times. It also gave me glimpse of what it was like to carry on a conversation while staying aware there will later be an audience. It gives you a buzz similar to being on stage, and yet it’s totally different since there is generally no audience when you are recording.
In May of 2021 Robert emailed me to say there was an opening for a host on the show and I started the onboarding process. Robert is very organized and runs the show at a professional level, even though the hosts are volunteers.
Hosting is like having a second job, but a mini-job. You only need to record about one show every two months. Combined the nine hosts produce a new show almost every week.
I was surprised to discover that recording the epsiode was actually one of the easier parts of the role for me. By then you’re hopefully well prepared and you are usually interviewing a true expert, so it’s pretty easy to keep them talking for about an hour.
The hardest part for me and many of the hosts is eliminate “filler words”. I was able to excise “um” from my vocabulary pretty easily, but words like “okay” and “so” and “I guess” keep croping up. Speaking without filler words is good skill to master for real-life as well, at least in more formal settings.
Much of the effort towards preparing a show involves vetting and lining up the guests, but the activity that feels most like homework is producing an outline for the show. It’s easy to drag your feet on doing the research you need to do in order to write a good outline. An outline is not a list of questions, necessarily, but it should lead to about an hour’s worth of questions and discussion.
Our shows generally follow a structure that includes a lot of background and educational material, more so than podcasts which sometimes dive right into what the guest is promoting. Before writing the outline I will read a lot online, and often watch YouTube episodes or listen to past episodes from our podcast or other podcasts.
As a host you can come up with topics and find your own guests, but pitches for shows are constantly coming in from the outisde as well. Interestingly a lot are submitted by PR representatives. If approved by Robert, these topics and guests are available first-come first-serve basis to any host.
For my first five shows only one was my own topic and guest, although I attempted to arrange other shows that didn’t end up happening. I have some ideas for future shows, but doing “incoming pitches” worked out pretty well for me. There were many topics to choose from so I was able to pick things I was interested in.
Wrapping up (a podcasting phrase!)
I’d recommend becoming a Software Engineering Radio host if it sounds intriguing to you. Or you could host your own podcast or a YouTube channel. I think producing content builds many skills that can benefit you in your day job, and it can be fun and rewarding.
I enjoy talking to experts and being able to ask them whatever I want. The guests tend to be pretty cool people and hosting is good motivation to learn new things and stay up-to-date in our rapidly changing field.
These are the five episodes I’ve hosted so far, each has a page where you can read more about it and listen to the whole episode:
- 474 – Paul Butcher on Fuzz testing
- 484 – Audrey Lawrence on Timeseries Databases
- 493 – Ram Sriharsha on Vectors in Machine Learning
- 497 – Richard L. Sites on Understanding Software Dynamics
- 500 – Sergey Gorbunov on Blockchain Interoperability