One Year Inside The Bike Shed

Derek Prior

The Bike Shed turns one year old this month. What began as a biweekly show has moved to weekly episodes with a loyal audience.

The Bike Shed isn’t a show about Rails, JavaScript or any particular language or library. At its best, the Bike Shed is a show about the problems we face as developers and interesting ways we tackle them.

On our first anniversary, I thought it would be interesting to look at the evolution and future of the show.

Building The Bike Shed

The idea for a new technical podcast from thoughtbot predates the first episode of The Bike Shed by some time. thoughtbot’s flagship Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast was successfully covering topics of interest to a broader audience, and we felt a show more strictly focused on our day-to-day work could fill a different niche.

Build Phase, our iOS development podcast, had given us confidence that a very code-focused technical podcast could be enjoyable to listen to. After much internal discussion about hosts, names, and potential topics, Sage Griffin and I decided to move forward with the idea for web development focused show with Build Phase as our template.

We solicited suggestions for topics from our co-workers. The topic list was something I was very keen on having as I was afraid we’d run out of interesting things to talk about. I also felt like the suggestions would tell us what our co-workers were excited about, and by extension a wider audience of developers would enjoy hearing more about.

The Bike Shed debuted with an episode about Sandi Metz’ Rules on November 1st, 2014.

The Evolution of the Show

When we started the show, we picked broad technical topics from our backlog such as “CoffeeScript vs ES6” and discussed our experiences. What we discussed on any given episode wasn’t always what had our attention at that moment, and I always felt pressured to be an expert on the selected topic. As a result, recordings often involved a good deal of preparation and nerves.

We quickly realized the crutch of the topic backlog was doing more harm than good. We shifted to talking about our recent experiences tackling interesting technical challenges in open source or on client projects, and about technologies that had us personally excited. We deleted the entire topic backlog and the show was better for it.

We were lucky enough to have access to some fantastic guest hosts at RailsConf and we took full advantage by recording seven podcasts in a single day, including one video podcast with Aaron Patterson and a live audience. We want our shows with guests to be similarly driven by their current work, interests, and challenges. We aim to avoid interviews because we feel that’s ground already very well covered by Giant Robots.

Adding On to The Bike Shed

If you’re a regular listener, you’ll have noticed and enjoyed that Laila Winner has joined us as a host on three recent episodes. Sage and I are excited to say that Laila will be joining the show more regularly as we move into our second year. Each episode will be hosted by two of the three of us and we will continue to be joined by guest hosts on occasion.

The Bike Shed Starter Kit

If you haven’t listened to the show before, please give it a listen and let us hear your feedback. The episodes below have been popular with our listeners, and should give you a good feel for the show.

Thank You

Sage, Laila, and I would like to thank listeners for giving our show a shot and thoughtbot for allowing us the time and budget to do the show. We’d especially like to thank our producer, Thom Obarski, for making us sound reasonably intelligent. We think that excellent production values are a critical part of an enjoyable podcast and Thom is the person who makes that possible.