I have been using keyboards for more than 40 years.
Yet, for some reason, I did not learn to touch type properly until 2 years ago.
I guess I got hit with a perfect combination of shame, desire to invest on myself, and 2020 lockdown. Also, I admit I’ve always wanted to use one of those keyboards with blank keycaps, and there was no way I was going to pull that off with my shitty typing technique.
While I was learning to touch type, I got addicted to mechanical keyboards. I’m trying not to drag you down this rabbit hole, so I’ll skip most of the hardware details. I may still write about that topic in another post.
I know other people who are in the same situation. And I keep getting questions about how I did it, so I’m sharing some details about my experience in case they help someone.
How it started
I started learning to touch type with proper form on April 2020, using my existing keyboard (a very nice and very orange Logitech K380). I soon discovered that I am deeply offended by the way in which most keyboards are laid out. In particular, I found it really challenging to hit the keys on the bottom left of the keyboard (Z, X, C and V) with the correct fingers. The position felt unnatural, and it made no sense to me.
So I did what I always do when I find a challenge: turn it into a different, even bigger challenge. I got an ortholinear keyboard, and used it to learn to touch type.
An ortholinear keyboard is one in which all keys have the same size, and are distributed in a grid pattern. I love the simplicity of the concept, and find them aesthetically pleasing, so it was an easy decision for me.
I did not know it at the time, but this was a very good idea. It allowed me to develop a new muscle memory for touch typing. I would eventually use this advantage to learn a completely different layout for touch typing (Colemak, more on this later) while still being able to type on my laptop keyboard.
Once I had a keyboard I felt was not designed by sadists, I continued my journey to learn.
I tried a bunch of touch typing websites and apps, until found one that I really enjoyed: https://keybr.com.
They use a different approach than other similar tools. Instead of giving you structured lessons, exercises or games, they give you random words to type. Your job is to place your fingers on the right place (the home row), and memorise the position of letters on your keyboard. This is what, eventually, will allow you to type without looking at your keyboard.
You start using two keys only, and once you get reasonably proficient with them, you “unlock” extra keys. I found the whole process quite fun and way more engaging than more structured lessons. Your mileage may vary, but I would recommend you to take a look at it.
I also recommend you to get a set of blank keycaps. That way, you have no choice but to learn where the letters are :D
I practiced daily for 5 to 15 minutes, whenever I found a moment to relax. This was during lockdown, so I made that my daily zen moment. Learning to type was very therapeutic, and a very productive way of not going mad.
How long did it take?
My initial answer to that question is “who cares, it’s a long term investment!”. But that’s not really an answer. So I checked my personal notes to see how long it took me to reach a decent speed (where by “decent speed” I mean “having a conversation in Slack without getting frustrated”).
Apparently, it took me about three weeks of practice to get to a point where I could work without reaching out for my old keyboard.
Making things harder
I must love pain, because after a few months of happy typing on my new keyboard I decided to switch to an alternate keyboard layout: Colemak.
Some people claim alternate layouts like Colemak, DVORAK, etc, are more efficient. This was not my main motivation. I’ve never been a fast typist, and have not much interest in becoming one because I feel my brain is the slowest part of my setup. My interest in Colemak comes from the belief that it would be good for my aching wrists and fingers (spoiler: it was).
Switching to Colemak was a bit slower than learning to touch type (I’ve been using QWERTY for decades, after all). I started using it on October 2020, and kept practising on the side. It took me about a month and a half to reach a usable speed. I switched full time to Colemak at the end of December 2020, and haven’t looked back since.
How it’s going
After almost two years of touch typing daily without looking at the keys, my only regret is not having done this sooner. I wish my younger self would have had the foresight to invest on such a basic skill. But I’m also trying to develop a healthier relationship with myself and forgive me for all the stupid shit I’ve done (or, in this case, failed to do).
As I said, I don’t want this post to turn into a rant about keyboards. So I’ll just quickly mention that I’m now using a small ergonomic keyboard (48 keys, 10 of which I don’t really use) and have no plans to ever go back to a “normal” keyboard.
I hope this post will help you with your journey. If there’s anything else you want to know, just ping me on Twitter and I’ll be happy to answer.