The Best Tech Podcasts for Cool Nerds – Discover the Best Podcasts
With the success of “nerd culture” there has been an unfortunate homogenization of media. Even something as niche as podcasts in which people talk about technology has been slathered in the inoffensive mayonnaise that is corporate branding. Now the idea of being “into tech” or “a nerd” has been ground down to simply mean someone who owns one of the highest-selling phones on the market and goes to the highest-grossing movies in human history. I’ve returned to the tech podcast trenches to pull from the inky deep six podcasts that embrace critical thinking, the stories of minorities in tech, and aren’t afraid to be geeky about actual nerdy topics.
There Are No Girls on The Internet
There Are No Girls on the Internet (otherwise known by the excellent initialism TaNGotI) captures the spirit of NPR-born tech and internet-focused podcasts. Reply All ex-pats will pick up the familiar trappings of upbeat plunky music stings being used to transition between lines of thought as a charismatic host leads them down that episode’s story. Except, instead of spotlighting tech bros as they mansplain dropshipping to each other, TaNGotI is telling the world stories that need to be heard. As the official website perfectly sums up: “digital activist and veteran podcaster Bridget Todd is chronicling what the online experience looks like for us, and the overlooked ways marginalized voices have been at the heart of technology and the internet from the very beginning.”
Episodes around one hour but can also shrink to near half an hour. There’s no formulaic structure demanding each story need to run the same length. Todd gives the people involved the time they need to tell their story. While a powerful speaker in her own right, Todd understands the power of letting her guests tell their own story as much as possible.
If you’ve never heard of Rocket, congratulations. I’ve just given you a wonderful gift. Christina Warren, Brienna Wu, Simone de Rochefort. If you have a Twitter account for any substantial period of time you’ve likely seen one of them in passing. The last time I recommended Rocket I said its continued existence and backlog of hundreds of episodes was a “public service to podcasting.” Lofty words, and I still believe it. Three women very much embedded in internet and tech culture spend an hour talking about the week’s developments in tech and pop culture.
What sets Rocket apart from people-talking-about-stuff chat casts is the hosts’ combination of industry experience and honesty. A big problem in tech podcasting is hosts who ride a centrist line, seemingly out of fear of ruining future partnerships or job opportunities. Warren, Wu, and Rochefort tell it like it is. They’re up for doing goofy cold opens discussing which Sonic character best fits their personalities, but they also have a track record of discussing the complicated place they have in the world. It’s not easy being informed of some of the latest bad news about Apple but also still have the innate urger to get the newest iPhone for virtue of new-thing-feel-good.
Rocket is funny, keeps to a modest one hour episode length, and tells it like it is. Tech podcasting would be a better place if shows like this were the status quo.
Minority Report Podcast
Minority Report Podcast (not to be confused with The Minority Report, a show that looks like the hosts say “grindset” unironically) features hosts Erik Requidan and Kerel Cooper interviewing a people of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ in the world of business and tech.
Reporting on minority members of painfully cis white industries. I’m a sucker for a solid pun name. Luckily that lead me to this unexpected delight of an interview show. The superstructure of the podcast is straightforward: a host introduces a guest, they talk, they go home. Editing is judicial with the average episode feeling very tight and coming in just under half an hour.
In a stunning twist one wouldn’t normally find on a simple tech-themed interview podcast: Minority Report is fully transcribed. Not just copy-pasted out of Otter.ai. Someone on the team is taking the time to manually edit the transcript to add in notations for moments like when the guest laughs.The bar is in the basement as far as transcriptions in nonfiction podcasting but kudos to them for going above and beyond.
Well There’s Your Problem
WTYP is a podcast about tech, even if it’s not presented as one. Each episode hosts Justin Roczniak, Alice Caldwell-Kelly, and Liam Anderson hop around history to cover engineering disasters. As one might expect, the cause of the vast majority of engineering disaster deaths can be summed up with “capitalism.” Topics discussed range from your bog-standard railroad disasters brought on by corporations skimping on safety to huge almost-diaster moments like Y2K. The hosts may be two crass Philly dudes and a trans Scottish woman who plays the Soviet national anthem every time communism is mentioned, but damn if they don’t provide thorough and interesting research. Their episode on the Titanic is so long it had to be split in half purely so Roczniak’s internet could handle uploading it.
Episode presentation is relatively simple for a video podcast. Roczniak records a Google Slides presentation consisting of slides he and/or other hosts have built for the topic. The sole reason to watch WTYP instead of listening to their audio-only RSS feed is witnessing Roczniak’s hand-drawn annotations as they appear, affectionately referred to as “John Madden-ing.” While a treat to watch him sketch cross-sections of poorly-constructed buildings, enough of an effort is made by the hosts to verbally describe the slides to make the audio-only podcast not just an afterthought.
Brad and Will Made a Tech Pod
An important part of a balanced tech podcasting diet is coverage of the industry from two dudes who remember life before the internet. That’s where self-identified greybeards Brad Shoemaker and Will Smith come in. Both veteran tech journalists, Shoemaker and Smith have produced a podcast so lean the premise is also the title. Three episodes a month the two hosts discuss topics pertaining to developments in the tech world, from smart devices to GPU costs. The fourth episode is reserved for Q&A, which allows the two to really go wild.
Two white dudes in their forties might not seem particularly wizend in a world where Wozniak is still doing college speaking engagements, but consider the landscape of tech podcasting. A place inundated with 20-something white dudes who think being loud equates being correct. Shoemaker and Smith – refreshingly – understand they’re two cis white guys who’ve had successful careers writing about the newest graphics cards and making podcasts with Adam Savage. If they don’t have something of worth to say on a topic, they won’t.
They’re also massive geeks. If left unchecked Shoemaker is want to begin discussing how a piece of tech works down to the level of what’s on the PCB inside. One could make a drinking game out of every time he mentions using a shell command in his everyday use of Windows 10. Brad and Will Made a Tech Pod, as well as its sister show FOSS Pod in which the same hosts discuss open source software, is the perfect addition to any tech podcaster’s media diet.
While not explicitly a podcast that talks about tech every episode, in my heart Trash Future counts in a holistic sense. The tagline on the TF website sums the show up perfectly: “a podcast about business success and making yourself smarter with the continued psychic trauma of capitalism.” What industry is most beset with capitalist brainworms than tech?
Trash Future sports a rotating cast of hosts consisting of Riley Quinn, Milo Edwards, Hussein Kesvani, Nate Bethea, and Alice Caldwell-Kelly. Any given episode of TF is akin to playing around with the strengths and weaknesses of party members in Dragon Age or Mass Effect. Some bring relative order, some bring outright chaos. It’s loud, brash, and unapologetically political. They’ve been at it for so long there’s a list of in-jokes and running bits one has to tease apart and retroactively figure out, if not outright ask a fan where they started.
Every other upload is a teaser for a Patreon-exclusive episode. The episode titles are a trainwreck. TF is as lo-fi a presentation as something starring hosts with expensive mics can get. Much like Well There’s Your Problem, TF doesn’t give a shit if you like it or not. If you’re on the same wavelength as the hosts, you’ll really like the show.
Bonus tech podcasts
This is Only a Test
A remnant from the years when Tested.com was a tech review outlet moreso than a delivery platform for Adam Savage videos, This is Only a Test is a weekly podcast in which site co-founder Norman Chan and guest(s) discuss the week’s developments in relation to tech and loosely-tech-adjacent pop culture. A weekly commuter-friendly podcast made by people openly critical of the environmental impact of crypto is harder to find than one might think, but it exists.
While technically a video-first podcast, I can count on one hand the amount of times over the years when something happened on the video feed that genuinely left me feeling ignored. If a visual truly is important, Chan will swoop in with a description to fill in the audio listeners. Tested has created the podcasting equivalent of Old Reliable. I was a weekly listener in the mid 2010s and can confirm that – save for co-founder Will Smith’s downgrade from host to occasional guest – it’s functionally identical to this day. You can trust Tested to be there every week with a news roundup, chat about some pop culture, and talk about tech you’ll want but probably don’t need.
Tech Won’t Save Us
In a stroke of perfect personal branding, this leftist tech industry discussion podcast is hosted by Paris Marx. Take a wild guess as to Marx’s political leanings. The driest of the entries on this list, Tech Won’t Save Us discusses, well, how tech isn’t going to save humanity of its own accord. The darker sides of how technology is harnessed for inhumane motives is covered each episode as Marx interviews an expert on a given segment of the industry. From the inherently right-wing construct of cryptocurrency to the ways Australia’s robodebt scandal, you’re going to hear about some gnarly stuff. Where podcasts like Well There’s Your Problem bring granular historical knowledge or broad-strokes systemic issues, Tech Won’t Save Us shines by virtue of constantly talking to people who’ve done little except research a given niche topic for purposes of writing longform coverage of it. It’s also a rare treat to stumble across a show about the industry that will plainly name people in the industry they’re talking about. There’s no subtweeting to be found here, just depressing realities we’ll likely never escape.
Queens of the Drone Age
Angharad Yeo, Rae Johnston, Amanda Yeo, and Tegan Jones are four Australian tech-focused content creators who get together every week to chat. Consider this the come-down relaxing entry in a list peppered with depressing, occasionally anger-inducing discussions of the horrors of the industries propping up modern technology. While Queens of the Drone Age don’t necessarily sugarcoat things, the experience is far more chill. Significant airtime of one episode is dedicated to Johnston and Amanda Yeo geeking out over new vacuums.
Being veterans of the tech sides of Mashable, Gizmodo, and the ABC (swap the A to Australia in that one, Americans), the four bring a causal expertise and access to new tech that’s exciting without veering into dry recitation of spec sheets. Not as likely to drop into uncomfortable industry realities as Rocket, but still less likely to give corporate nonsense a free pass than the average dudes-talk-about-tech chat show.
An oddity in tech podcast charts primarily dominated by corporate-minded interviews and personality-driven chat shows, Darknet Diaries stands above the rest as a hybrid interview and storytelling podcast about the “dark side of the internet.” Generally each episode involves hacking in some way, shape, or form, though host Jack Rhysider has found great success in the seemingly infinite variations of what can be interpreted as something from the internet’s “dark side.” From state-funded hacking teams attacking the Olympics to stories of geeks being paid to break into data centers, he covers every story with equal amounts of excitement and empathy. Rhysider at times reacts to developments of years-old stories with an energy akin to a children’s entertainer reacting to developments in a storybook.
The secret sauce of Darknet Diaries lies in that empathy. Rhysider has interviewed founders of The Pirate Bay, ex-NSA employees, even the guy who guessed Donald Trump’s Twitter password. Whether he’s talking about an inarguably good white-hat hacker or someone who has committed heinous atrocities, he finds a way to resist any urge to be numb.
Note to Self
Note to Self is about the ever-changing world of tech and how it shapes humanity as a whole. Whether it’s discussions on transhumanism or conversations with the person who helped create Facebook’s ad algorithm, Note to Self brings a deep level of reporting and their classic WNYC sheen of professionalism. Host Manoush Zomorodi–the new host of the TED Radio Hour–is brilliant and affable, making each episode accessible to people at any level of tech knowledge.
As a note, new episodes are currently only being released via Luminary, which, well . . . but the archive is still available on other podcatchers, and is well worth checking out.
Land of the Giants
Via Recode by Vox, Land of the Giants looks into the biggest tech companies that rule the world to figure out how they got so, well, big. Its first season analyzes how Amazon got to where it is–remember when Amazon just sold kinda cheap books that took a while to ship?–and how it’s become more than a storefront. Now, it’s one of the most important tech companies in the world, and Land of the Giants explains why that isn’t soon to change.
Another tech podcast via Recode by Vox, Reset is a twice-weekly breakdown of the week’s tech news. Think of it as a tech-focused version of The Daily, a quick-ish sum-up of everything you need to know to stay informed in the ever-changing world of tech. While usually the discussion looks at the intersection between tech and politics, there are also episodes that focus on the trends in tech, apps, and AI alone.
Why’d You Push That Button
Why’d You Push That Button is a technology podcast about why we make the choices we do in tech, and how that tech shapes those choices in the first place. Why do iPhone users interact less with Android users, and does it have to do with that lime green color in their texts? Why do people want to be verified on social media sites? Why do people use exclusive dating apps? Why’d You Push That Button speaks to people who have made choices in apps and have compelling stories behind why, but often also the experts behind the design features that guide those choices.
From the CBC, Hunting Warhead is one part tech podcast, one part journalism podcast. It’s a contained story about journalists trying to investigate the darkest corners of the internet to help save child abuse victims. While the subject matter is grisly, the CBC is known for its ethical journalism when it comes to true crime, and Hunting Warhead is no different. This podcast isn’t about the abuse the victims suffered; it’s about the investigation and the dark web themselves.
I would like every reader to reflect on the fact I had to fight tooth and nail to find enough podcasts with POC hosts to get the ratio to 50% in line with inclusion efforts here at Discover Pods. Tech podcasting is insufferably, inescapably dominated by white creators. I could compile a list as long as this one entirely full of POC-hosted podcasts that would fit on this list if they hadn’t unceremoniously stopped uploading months (or even years) ago. Existing lists of “[insert race]-hosted podcasts” invariably are written by no-name business blogs and only feature the same handful of identical shows in which an entrepreneur uncritically interviews anyone with an LLC who’ll agree to be a guest. The ability to be critical of monopolistic corporations is a big ask in a genre that generally favors those who don’t rock the boat, but it shouldn’t be this big of an ask.
Consider this an open call for future iterations of this list: if you’re a POC who hosts a tech-focused podcast that would fit in here, DM me on Twitter: @GavGaddis.