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Posts about touch typing

My Experience Learning the Dvorak Keyboard Layout

This post was sent to my newsletter on October 16th, 2020.
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I was wondering about what kind of technical posts, I could write, since I am still learning programming and I did not want to bother you folk, with this is how I learnt to do lists in Python and this is what dictionaries do :)

I then realised that it’s been slightly more than a year, I have been touch typing using the Dvorak layout.

So I thought, why not tell you that story? :)

Why did I switch to Dvorak?

I never learnt to touch type. It was always a some day, maybe cool skill to learn.
Ever since my computer support days in the late 90s, I have always hunted and pecked at my keyboard, using 2-3 fingers.
Or 4.
Or 5.
You get the gist.

And I was pretty comfortable with it, until I broke my back in 2017.

I now have three slipped discs at various point along my back, and one of them was compressing the nerves that go down both my arms a bit.

So the old way of typing, was now causing tremendous pain.

I asked my doctor what I could do and his answer was basically, change professions. (Silly sod)

But my physio sessions where I was strengthening my back muscles to take the load of my vertebrae, lit the bulb of what if I learnt to finally touch type using Dvorak? It was designed to reduce strain on the fingers.

Would that help?

Some Thoughts

I realise that I am in a lucky position, painful fingers notwithstanding.

My native language is English, most of the world types in English, programming is largely done in English and Dvorak was designed for English.

It would not have gone well for me, if I had to type in another language, because most of them adapt off the QWERTY layout.

While I have had no real issues adapting my fingers to shortcuts from my operating system and the various programs I use, I do realise that other folks might have muscle memory, that’s ingrained too deep.

How did I do it?

By switching to it cold turkey.
It was not like I had any other option.
The alternatives were to either endure shooting pains, up my fingers to my arms or give up typing altogether.

I switched my keyboard layout in Linux Mint on the desktop and MacOS on the laptop to Dvorak.
iOS does not natively have support for the Dvorak layout, so I installed Google’s Gboard and then switched that to Dvorak.

I practiced for about 10 minutes daily, using Gtypist on Linux, just to get a feel for where the keys were. I could see them on the phone and the tablet too, so that helped.

It took me a month to get the hang of it.
And the first two weeks, were absolutely miserable.
Emails, messages, writing, practically everything suffered.
I know.
I measured.
I averaged 2 to 5 words per minute.
I got yelled at.
And a few work balls got dropped too.
But that was a small price to pay, for what I hoped would be finger salvation.

But at the end of that month, I could touch type.
At 5 to 10 words a minute.

But I could do it.

A Year Later …

So, did it help?
Absolutely!
I now can type at close to 265 words a minute, with just my right hand.

Just kidding :)

It never was about the speed for me, though that has improved as well.
My good old patent pending hand claw typing, averaged 35 words a minute.
With Dvorak, I was at that speed in two months.
And then I just gave up on getting faster, because at around that speed, my fingers keep up with my thoughts.

The magic though, lies in the fact, that my speed has been on a gradual upward curve over the past year.
Four months ago, I was averaging 45 words a minute.
Today, I do about 55 words a minute.
And yet, like I said, it’s never been about the speed.

The best thing about Dvorak, lay in the fact that my fingers stopped paining.
I still have twinges once in a while, but those are few and far between and definitely a far cry from the daily agony of last year.

The other thing I’ve noticed is my fingers have become semi-autonomous typing appendages, if that makes any sense.
My thoughts flow out my fingers, on to the page. I don’t have to think about typing anymore.
Like I don’t have to think about walking. I want to go someplace and my feet just do it.

Finally, if someone had just told me just how comfortable Dvorak’d be, I would have made the attempt years ago.
It feels almost as good as scribbling notes on a pad to me. My fingers just roll over the keys, forming words.

You might not have crazy, flingin’ flangin’ fingers, but ought you learn to type with Dvorak?
My answer would be an emphatic, Yes!
(Two, no longer painful, thumbs up)


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