Typing in Dvorak: Would I Do It Again?

Back in my college days, as so many kids do, I experimented with my identity. I dyed my hair purple. I read new and radical philosophies. I adopted the Dvorak keyboard layout.

I remember that first week after making the switch: it was physically painful, how slowly I had to type as I searched my memory for where the heck did they put the K, cursing at myself for having a strong password guarding my Yahoo Mail box, but I was determined to succeed. After all, the QWERTY keyboard, inefficient by design, was an affront to my very identity as an engineer. (And let’s be honest, using an alternative, backed by data or not, appealed to my identity as a contrarian.)

And once I’d made the switch, I stuck with it. I still use Dvorak some *cough* years later. Here’s what I’ve concluded:

Typing in Dvorak is a much more pleasant sensation than typing in Qwerty. Because the vowels are all on the left home row there’s a fairly even back and forth rhythm that feels natural. The uneven jumble of Qwerty is just… aesthetically icky.

…That is, typing in ENGLISH in Dvorak. The funny thing about programming is that most of the time I’m not actually typing English sentences. I’m typing keyboard shortcuts, which are now all over the darn place (C is where I is in QWERTY, and V is >, not super efficient); I’m typing three letters and hitting tab to autocomplete variable names; curly brackets and semicolons really deserve a place on the home row for as much as I use them, but they’re relegated to the number bar and QWERTY-Z.

And let’s talk about games that use WASD controls. If I don’t flip my keyboard over, and they don’t give me the option to remap my controls, I’m having to use the utterly nonsensical <A:H (A and M are in the same place on both layouts). This generally renders the game unplayable. Ok you say, just play in Qwerty! Sure, that works, so long as I don’t have to use the keyboard for other commands, or chat with the other players…

Only I can use my computer. It often goes like this: say I want to pair program with someone, or the product owner is discussing spec changes with me. My coworker reaches over to type something, but whatever keyboard shortcut they hit is definitely not the one they intended. The screen fills with gibberish and they panic. “Oh sorry,” I say, “Just hit alt-shift to switch back to Qwerty.” Have a five-minute discussion about bad decisions made in college, hit alt-shift, type again… but now the coworker has developed a primal fear of my machine. (It’s even more fun when I have a hard-wired Dvorak keyboard and something misfires and instead of Qwerty we find ourselves in some sort of double-Dvorak nightmare mode.) The next time they come over, they demand I type. After that, we use their machine exclusively.

I look like a monkey typing on anyone else’s machine. Now we’re pairing on their machine, or I’m using a public terminal, or I’m at a job interview where I need to code. Now obviously I know how to touch-type in Dvorak, so I could definitely add the software toggle that allows me to hit alt-shift and be on my merry way… but if I forget to turn that back off, I’ll have made an enemy for life. (That part comes after the first time they accidentally hit alt-shift and have no idea why their computer is suddenly acting possessed and eventually figure out that it’s because I sabotaged them.) So that leaves me typing in Qwerty. Which yes, I can do, but it takes a minute for my brain to make the shift, and I’m slower and have to look at the keys sometimes and it definitely makes me feel like a child instead of a professional.

Passwords. Being asked to set change my password on boot is … just cruel really. Am I typing in QWERTY or Dvorak? WHO KNOWS! IT’S A FUN GAME! WHERE YOU END UP HAVING TO RESET YOUR PASSWORD A THOUSAND TIMES! I have occasionally found myself in the odd situation of knowing how to type my password without knowing what the characters actually are.

In the end, it’s made my life about 1% less convenient all around. But it probably reduces my risk of repetitive stress injuries? And if I ever get around to writing that novel, it’ll be amazing. So would I do it again? Probably–but just because it’s fun to terrorize my coworkers.

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