The stickers are off and the typing tests are over. My coworkers have stopped teasing me. I feel like I have defeated the level of typing speed I surrendered when I decided to switch from QWERTY to Colemak three months ago. Plus, I've achieved a competency in touch typing and another special snowflake badge. I'll use this post to catalog some takeaways, anecdotes, and ponder my next steps in the quest for efficiency. -Me, 3 months ago
I have a history of bad habits and stubbornness about them. I have held my pen incorrectly since the age of six and I can't read the journals I've kept by hand for ten years. No teacher's compassion could save me from the benign doom that is sloppy handwriting. I am inexplicably slow at tying my shoes. I bite my nails on occaision to the point of an inability to use my fingers. However nothing has cut into my efficiency as a denizen of the 21st century and a developer as my slowness at typing. It was probably a combination of early access to computers and no formal typing classes, but all the way up to my early adulthood I had been effectively a four finger typer. I simply could not break out of the habit. It simply worked well enough. Yet as I dove deep into efficiency hacks and keyboard shortcuts, I realized I should do something stupid and drastic. I switched off QWERTY.
What would be the logical conclusion? DVORAK? Nay, that is far too well supported in modern operating systems. Colemak was my choice. I can't quite remember why, but I thought the layout made good sense so I went for it. And I really tried this time. I tried much harder than I did in elementary school, when the bad habits of my early computer experiences had made any correction from fun online flash games completely moot. This time I obeyed the finger patterns and even mapped my Caps Lock to Backspace (more on this later.) However, despite my progress, I seemed to be slower overall than when I was pecking QWERTY. Even as I made progress, I thought to myself that I would switch back to QWERTY as soon as I completely forgot it so I could properly retrain myself.I would like to thank my patient coworkers at Kroger Digital who watched me, grimacing, as I put label-made stickers over my keys and went through hourly keyboard exercises from the wonderful Learn Colemak website I had to switch back to QWERTY for emergencies, but I stuck to the new mapping. It's now been about half a year since I first switched over and I am marginally faster on Colemak and absolutely sluggish on QWERTY keyboards. My girlfriend sighs as I hunt and poke on her fancy mechanical keyboard. But I think I'm going to stick with Colemak. I feel that despite the social detractions of being on a different keyboard layout, remapping a million keys on every new non-Linux system, and some occaisional strain, I have achieved a respectable level of typing proficiency and I can totally focus entirely on whatever needs to consume my attention.
- Phone Keyboard Weirdly enough, or maybe not, my phone keyboard is still in QWERTY. I feel like I have always been sufficiently competent in the thumb typing system (even after they took away T9). There must be some weird double mapping in my brain because I can switch between typing in Colemak on a PC keyboard and texting in QWERTY without an issue. Too bad I can't funnel that transition power to context swapping in development.
- Mapping Caps Lock to Backspace: This was absolutely life changing and I don't know why I hadn't used it earlier. In fact, when I initially alternated between Colemak and Qwerty, my qwerty kept getting capitalized. It was a mess being stuck in the middle. I feel like my left pinkie finger could now lift a skid of fishtank Macintoshes.
- Hand Cramps: Something I had never experienced before switching to a full-hand typing methodology is finger cramping. I certainly feel the soreness, particularly when using Apple keyboards. I'm in the search for something more ergodynamic, but I feel like the problem is as rampant in engineering as bad backs and XKCD comics.
- Shortcuts: While entering into Colemak-land has coincided with my deep-dive into efficiency-seeking habits, I had grown accustomed to several dozen keyboard shortcuts throughout all of the applications I use regularly. Luckily, Colemak preserves the positions of some of these important keys (c, v, x, z, w, q). What really screwed me up was the loss of my deeply ingrained GIMP shortcuts. However, concentration in this area has provided me with more shortcuts than ever before (thanks iTerm).
- The One Handed Struggle: Typing with one hand requires some heavy utilization of my frontal cortex. On days like today, where the Caltrain has combined two southbound rushhour trains, I certainly miss the visual cues of the keyboard.
- Not Having Friends: Probably the strongest reason to switch back to QWERTY is to be accessible to the people around me. If someone is trying to troubleshoot on my device or vice-versa, unconscious typing leads to bizarre strings or worse. I won't even mention the confounded look of anyone trying to enter text into a password field on my laptop without knowing that the layout wasn't QWERTY. Putting an easy-to-reach icon in the task bar that switches the layout allows me to avoid frustrating the hell out of everyone.
- Worst of All The typewriter I use to write all of my snail mail letters doesn't seem to have a Colemak function. I even checked the manual. Thus, the industry that doomed the world of electronics to horribly inefficient typing is still keeping me down. I've put a task on my backlog to tear apart a backup typewriter and see if I can't rearrange the stamps. Gotta stay occupied somehow.
My quest to become a mature typist has landed me into a bit of an awkward situation that while being a bit of a hassle, has benefited me tremendously. I'm certainly not alone in my conclusio. I haven't completely ruled out returning to QWERTY, but I would have to remap so many keys I've gotten used to that it might as well be a whole new system.
For anyone interested in trying out a new keyboard layout I would highly suggest these resources. It's easier than learning a new language and may just boost your productivity.