Two weeks ago I switched to the Dvorak keyboard layout. The switch was motivated by a few different things:
Knowing real people that are using the Dvorak layout every day
I found out that at least 3 developers out of our group of about 11 use Dvorak. I had heard many people on the internet who had been using it before, but no one in real life. Having people you actually know using it did help in legitimizing the switch in my brain.
Emacs usage and RSI
Having switched to Emacs for Clojure development in order to pair with people at the new job, I started developing what has been known as “Emacs Pinky”. The pinky syndrome faded over time as I became more familiar with Emacs, but it made me think about RSI impacting me in the future. I decided that if I was going to change I would need to change while I was under 30. So far I feel like there has been less stress on my hands than Qwerty was.
I also decided that if I was going to learn Emacs, I might as well gain the muscle-memory with Dvorak the first time. This has been great since I still have to think about Emacs commands, so only knowing the command with muscle-memory on Dvorak keeps my mind from Qwerty/Dvorak contention.
Maybe typing faster in the future
Anyone that’s seen Phil type on his awesome keyboard pants knows how fast he types with Dvorak. It’s inspiring.
So, how has it been?
So far, Dvorak has been really cool. I’m 2 weeks (and a day) into the switch. Right now my qwerty is completely shot, so I try very hard not to use it any more. I did a completely cold-turkey switch, which was hard at the beginning, but I’ve had some understanding coworkers that have helped it not be as painful (they would drive the pairing while I was just starting out). My speed with Dvorak right now is about 1/2 of my speed with Qwerty, but it gets better every day.
The hardest letters to type so far are ‘q’, ‘l’ and ‘g’. I’ve also been having trouble with  being switched, I end up typing / every time I mean to type [ (like I said, getting better every day). Overall, I would still recommend to anyone that types a lot that if they can take the initial hit, it’s worth the switch.
I recommend that if you do switch, switch like this:
- Switch cold-turkey – switching half time will leave you crazy.
- Print out a Dvorak keyboard (or stick it on your screen persistently) until you memorize the keyboard
- Try not to be in a position where people have to watch you type – if you think it’s painful to type, imagine watching you type.
- Don’t change any Emacs/Vim/whatever defaults (keybindings) – I couldn’t change since we pair on each other’s computers, so the default is always the best to learn