Alumnus and Anchor co-founder Michael Mignano to speak at UD on voice and computer science

University of Delaware alumnus Michael Mignano was the co-founder of Anchor, a software platform for making podcasts that was launched in 2016 and was acquired by Spotify in 2019, reportedly for more than $100 million. Until leaving the company earlier in 2022, Mignano led Spotify’s podcasts, live audio, video businesses and oversaw the introduction of features that allow users to create and edit podcasts in the app directly.

As part of UD’s 2022 Homecoming, Mignano will deliver the Department of Computer and Information Sciences Distinguished Lecture on Friday, Oct. 21 at Mitchell Hall. The entrepreneur and venture capitalist will share with the UD community his career journey and what might be next. The lecture is a free, in-person event scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m., and registration is required at the UD Homecoming events website.

In advance of the event, Mignano shared what inspired him to study computer science, what motivated him to create Anchor, and what the future holds for podcasts and broadcast audio. The Department of Computer and Information Sciences is part of UD’s College of Engineering.

Q: Why did you decide to study computer science when you came to UD?

Mignano: Growing up, I had two core passions, music and technology. When it came time to go to college, it was the beginning of this new age of technology — the internet was just coming into form, and I wanted to be a part of it.

It was a tough choice between music and computer science, but I had heard great things about UD’s computer science program and thought it was a great opportunity.

Q: What was broadcast audio like in 2005 when you graduated, and what role did Anchor play in changing that medium?

Mignano: The iPod, which was still relatively new when I graduated, introduced a new audio format known as podcasts, where people could download radio shows in the same way you could download a music file. But at that time, the only people who could create and distribute podcasts were radio broadcasters because of the equipment, software, and technical know-how that was needed.

When Nir Zicherman and I were building Anchor, we felt like voice was a powerful form of communication. While the internet is full of text-heavy messaging on platforms like Twitter or Facebook, broadcast audio can convey more information, emotion, and civility. That allows for healthy discourse and debate that can get lost in text.

But because people who had something they wanted to say didn’t have the tools needed — such as expensive microphones, editing software, and the means of distribution — they couldn’t communicate using this rich medium. That was our inspiration for Anchor — to democratize the creative process for talk audio.

Now, anyone can share their voice — not just their opinions on a topic, but their actual voice — in a way that allows us to engage in real, healthy, human conversations. That was a big shift, and part of why podcasts are so popular is that they fill that void in the current age of information.

Q: What does the future look like for podcasts?

Mignano: The natural evolution of the internet over the past 20 years has taught us that as tools become easier to use, and the capabilities of those tools become more powerful, creativity becomes more and more democratized. With audio, it’s only going to get easier to broadcast voice, and I’m really interested to see the creativity that’s unlocked when people have greater access to new tools.

I’ll also be curious to see how AI will enable people to be even more creative. Right now, there’s an explosion of new AI-enabled platforms like Dall-E2 that make it easy for anyone to generate impressive imagery, so it’s hard not to imagine how AI will find its way to audio broadcasting.

But with new technologies, there’s always going to be both opportunities and dangers, and with things like AI we need to both foster innovation while also protecting ourselves from the pitfalls.

Q: How has studying computer science at UD shaped your career thus far?  

Mignano: One of the things that the computer science department, courses and instructors were all effective at helping me understand was how to think like a software engineer. Even though I shifted into product design and management after I graduated, I feel fortunate to have this second language that enables me to communicate and collaborate with others so we can build software and design products together.

Overall, studying computer science at UD has been one of the most formative elements of my career that has enabled me to pursue many of my passions. I gained such a strong foundation that I’ve taken with me through every opportunity since then.

Q: Anything you look forward to about being back on campus?

Mignano: I am really excited to reconnect with some of the professors I learned so much from when he was here. I’m also interested in walking around campus and seeing how it has evolved and am looking forward to attending the football game on Saturday.

Overall, I’m just excited to get back to a place that was so foundational and formative to my career and how I think about the world.