Listen and Learn: Podcasts for the Tech-Minded

By Amy Goetzman | June 12, 2018

A new podcast by Not Impossible Labs and Avnet explores the potential for engineering minds to help humanity solve some of its greatest challenges. Plus, nine other podcasts for the tech-minded.

By Amy Goetzman

You might expect that a podcast sponsored by a technology company would be focused on engineering topics. But when Avnet partnered with Not Impossible Labs to create the “Not Impossible” podcast, the goal was just the opposite. “We wanted to bring in the human element, tell people-focused stories that also have a technology angle,” said Kevin Sellers, CMO of Avnet. “The intent is to get engineers and tech-minded people to think differently about the potential of their craft and motivate them to get involved in making a better world.”

That sounds pretty high-minded, but it’s already happening. Avnet’s two community hubs, and element14, are populated by engineers who are testing big ideas — some of which could ease humanity’s most pressing concerns. “Engineers are very interesting people. They are always thinking about problems and looking for solutions. And they are a helpful bunch: Even thought they might have a very demanding full-time job, they come onto these sites in their spare time and help other people. It’s a really supportive community,” said Sellers. “When you see some of the things people are working on, you realize that engineering can be a life-saving venture.”

The podcast shares a few of those efforts. In one episode, a man who lost his arm to cancer becomes the first person to use a mind-controlled prosthetic arm in the government’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program. In another, a graffiti artist with ALS is able to make art again, thanks to EyeWriter, a system that uses cameras and open-source computer vision software to direct a virtual paintbrush with his eye movements. The shows are moving, beautifully produced, and emphasize the emotional impact of engineering. These are human stories that would be impossible without technology.

Not Impossible Labs is an innovation group that looks for technological solutions for human problems, with a focus on helping the most vulnerable people. Avnet helps engineers turn their ideas into reality with design, supply chain, and products. “We take a hands-off approach, but stories like these are what motivates us. We can help innovators scale their ideas to market and help guide them into production,” said Sellers, a self-described podcast junkie who also enjoys shows like the TED Radio Hour and Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History.

The Not Impossible podcast’s first season is out now. Look for a new episode every Tuesday into July. After you’ve heard all 10 episodes, check out these other great shows.

99% Invisible
This long-running podcast explores design topics across society, including architecture, infrastructure, and technology. With a history-based approach, the show delves into the evolution of technologies such as the computer mouse (“Of Mice and Men”) and nature-based high-tech design (“Biomimicry: How Designers are learning From the Natural World”).

The Amp Hour
The Amp Hour gets deep into the geekery with in-depth interviews with engineers and inventors about topics like Moore’s Law, sourcing and long lead times in electronics, and hyperscale datacenters. This cheerful, conversational show puts a subtle emphasis on tinkering, open source, and hacking, blurring the lines between all work and some play (aka just a little troublemaking).

Engines of Our Ingenuity
Long before podcasts were a thing, John Lienhard at the University of Houston hosted a radio show about the history of technology and the human side of engineering. The archives go back to 1988, with hundreds of episodes about topics like Frankenstein and the state of electric lights before Edison. If Lienhard hasn’t talked about it, it probably hasn’t been invented yet.

Accidental Tech Podcast
Looking at tech from a pop culture standpoint, the Accidental Tech team explores the burning issues of our day, such as Yanny vs. Laurel, whatever Elon Musk is up to this week, and Apple’s latest shiny thing. This chatty podcast keeps you up on the gossipy side of the tech world.

EEs Talk Tech
This podcast takes the over-the-cubicle-wall approach — a couple of electrical engineers engage in shop talk about things like signal integrity, DDR5, and the world’s meanest fighting robots. (It’s sponsored by Keysight Technologies.)

Omega Tau
Wide-ranging in topics, Omega Tau covers engineering, computing, aerospace, mathematics, biology, physics, nanotechnology, language design, and just about everything under the science and technology umbrella. It’s available in English and in German, and guaranteed to make you smarter.

Talking Machines
Taking a philosophical look at the fascinating topic of machine learning, this show’s recent episodes include a look at AI and religion, good data practices rules, and computational learning theory.

Internet History Podcast
Learn about the people, companies, technologies, and nerdy moments on the timeline that make the internet almost as amazing as the real world. Great episodes include one on the history of Java, a look at early indie ISPs, and an interview with Steven Sasson, who invented the digital camera.

Planet Money
NPR’s Planet Money hosts the Friday Podcast, a show that covers the economy and financial topics. That often means technology is in the spotlight. One episode is especially near and dear to us. In “Buttons and Other Connectors,” the show visits two US-based connector factories. One makes wooden buttons — a very basic connector. The other, Zierick Manufacturing Corporation, makes the kind of connectors we talk about on these pages. Both tours are totally fascinating.

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Amy Goetzman
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