I recently made the switch from a QWERTY keyboard to Colemak, and I wanted to share my experience so far.
Other than a few classes in elementary and middle school, I had never really learned how to touch-type. To this day, when typing on a QWERTY keyboard, my hands move all around without returning to the home row.
Because of this typing style, my accuracy suffered, and my hands would be tired at the end of the day. I also wanted to increase my typing speed, but I didn’t feel like I would be able to do that without changing something.
After spending a few days looking into different keyboard layouts, I narrowed it down to Dvorak and Colemak. I initially looked into Workman as well, but decided against it, as it was not included by default in MacOS. Using default layouts makes using another person’s computer more simple.
After experimenting with both for a few hours, I ultimately decided to move forward with Colemak. In the same amount of time using Dvorak and Colemak, I felt much more comfortable using Colemak. The quicker learning time and unchanged action key locations (i.e. CMD+A, Q, W, Z, X, C, V) were the two main selling points for me.
During my first few days using Colemak, I practiced small exercises online, focusing on the home row. In fact, as soon as I got used to the home row, I stopped using any tutorials and just started using Colemak here and there. During the first two weeks, I continued to use QWERTY at work, but I used Colemak at home.
After a few weeks of using Colemak at home (and once I was comfortable with my typing speed), I started using it at work. Initially, I turned off my Vim keybinding extension because I felt like it would be overwhelming to learn that at the same time.
Even though I was typing a little slower than I did with QWERTY, I didn’t notice any decrease in productivity. I switched back to QWERTY a few times to write quick emails, but for the most part, I was able to stay in Colemak the majority of the day.
After about a month of using Colemak, my typing speed is roughly equivalent to what it was when I was using QWERTY. However, I’m expecting it to increase from here, as I continue to become more familiar with the layout.
I’ve had a good experience using Colemak so far, but the question remains, is it worth learning to begin with?
Should You Learn a New Keyboard Layout?
The ergonomics of Colemak are certainly better than QWERTY. My hands move much less than they did when I typed with QWERTY, and my fingers rarely have to stretch uncomfortably. Overall, my fingers are traveling less, and my hands and fingers are no longer sore at the end of the day.
Perhaps it is simply the act of touch typing rather than my old hunt-and-peck method, but I’m confident that using Coleman will enable me to be a faster, more accurate typist. After just a month, I’m as fast as I was after using QWERTY for 20 years.
It may not be worth learning for everyone, however. As I mentioned earlier, I chose not to learn Workman because it’s not built in to MacOS. Switching keyboard layouts on MacOS is quite easy, and your choice can be bound to a CTRL+Space or CTRL+Option+Space without any additional software.
Since my team practices pair programming, I need to be able to switch layouts easily. With a built-in keyboard layout, it only takes seconds to switch.
If you are frequently changing computers and unable to switch your keyboard layout easily, it may not be worth it to learn anything other than QWERTY. However, for efficiency’s sake, it may still be worthwhile to learn touch-typing.
Learning a new keyboard layout takes mental energy and time–in my case, about a month to reach the same speed, but your mileage may vary. Even now, I can’t always rely on muscle memory, and I need to think about what I’m typing.
However, I’m happy I spent the time to make the switch from QWERTY to Colemak, and I’m excited to keep using it. If you are able, I would highly recommend that you try it, too.