Going Colemak Turkey


I’ve never been what you’d call a strong typist, and have adopted a typing style that could best be described as a combination of “hunting and pecking” and fast two-finger typing.  Aside from a brief stint in touch typing (senior year in high school) which I soon forgot, I was pretty much a hot mess.

Creatively, I got around this problem by avoiding any avocation that requires having both hands resting on a keyboard.  I have been a photographer, designer, what have you.  Even when I took up coding and WordPress theme development, I avoided my nemesis QWERTY as much as possible.  But let’s face it, it’s all but impossible in the age of the internet to avoid a keyboard!

So recently I failed in my plan to never type like an adult when I became a Happiness Engineer at Automattic.  Now most times of the day I type for a living, both to communicate with users of WordPress.com, as well as to “talk” to my co-workers.  We’re all distributed (You already knew that) so even the most basic of exchanges involves fingers on a keyboard.  The horror!

With this in mind, obviously something had to change.  One of the things that piqued my curiosity was that there were a number of fellow Automatticians who (proudly) used Dvorak over QWERTY.  I tried it out for a bit, even going so far as to re-arrange the keys on my keyboard, but never found that I liked it.  It was efficient, sure, but my biggest nit to pick was that all the keyboard shortcuts I loved (like CTRL+C / CTRL+V) were scattered across the keyboard.

So I took this as a sign that alternative keyboard layouts were not for me, and resigned myself to just getting faster at QWERTY.  This despite the fact that it is inefficient, bad for your health, and just plain sucks moosecock, which are all true facts.  Even as I got faster through typing drills and hours of on-the-job practice, I never got all that fast, and by the end of the day my fingers hurt more than I cared to admit.

Recently though, at our company-wide meetup, another coworker gave a presentation on an alternative keyboard layout that I had not heard of before called Colemak.  As he put it (I am paraphrasing here) it is an “alternative layout that is aware of the invention or the computer.”  There are other benefits, like efficiency of finger movement, low same-finger ratio, large number of words you can type from the home row, etc., but having common app shortcuts (including Ctrl+Z/X/C/V)  stay right where they are in QWERTY was for me a big plus.

Which leads me to this post.  I have now been typing on Colemak “cold turkey” for about a week now, and I am here to say that I am more than surviving.  In fact, I have been doing just fine.  Granted, I am still typing rather slowly and cautiously, and need to “peek” from time to time, but for the most part I am touch-typing without issue, and getting faster every day.  And that is after just a week!

What is amazing to me though, is how my hands aren’t killing me at the end of the day.  Typing efficiency is about more than just raw speed.  After all, it’s a marathon, and not a sprint…

PS:  Want to work for someone who “gets” how important it is for it’s employees to tweak and optimize their workflow, up to and including switching keyboards?  Well, then why not fly with us.

11 thoughts on “Going Colemak Turkey

  1. Awesome! I’ve been willing to try it out as well, but I’m not as brave as you (yet).

    Did you rearrange your keys to use the Colemak layout? If so, would you recommend a good tutorial so I don’t end up destroying my keyboard in the process?

  2. This is what I need to do… just go cold turkey. I’ve got the home row down OK but don’t have the guts to just flip the switch like that. Good on you mate! 🙂

  3. Way to go Jerry!

    My recommendation is to print out my Colemak Layout rather than having a keyboard cover or rearranging your keys. Every time you peek at your keys slows down the training process. Ultimately you want the map of where the keys are in your head, which is why I think the printout is better when you need to cheat (which is a lot at first!).

    I’d also recommend Ian’s posts on Colemak: http://iandanielstewart.com/tag/colemak/

  4. Nice! +1 for having a print-out of the location of the keys over actually rearranging or having a cover (the KBcovers are so flimsy anyway 😉 ).

    If you have a large screen you can also just enable the Keyboard Viewer. Sys Pref > Keybord > Input Sources > check “Show input menu in menu bar”. Then you have a quick shortcut to show and hide the keyboard viewer right in your menu bar. It’s especially useful since it highlights the key you’re currently pressing and how keys’ functions change with different modifiers.

  5. I’ve been meaning to go cold turkey myself but I am leaning towards an improved variant of colemak called workman-p. it’s just so easy to switch back which is what has kept me from starting.

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