After 5 years of Dvorak, I am switching back to Qwerty.

In 2012 I, with two other nerdy roommates, switched to Dvorak. Five years later (four of them spent as a Software Engineer) I am switching back to Qwerty. In fact, I am struggling at 30 WPM (a 70% reduction in speed) to write this post now.

The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard, patented in 1936

Why did I switch in the first place?

My setup probably resembled something like this. Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/unixporn/comments/6jxiej/dwm_i_like_it/

The TL;DR on this is my friends and I didn’t have jobs and were incredibly bored, but there’s more to it than that. Early in my career I thought optimizing every portion of my interaction with my code would make me a better engineer. I used a crazy Awesome WM setup on Arch Linux. My Vim and ZSH were 256 color beauties with power-lines and git integrations. I spent hours configuring these.

A part of my blind optimization was switching to Dvorak. Because I could spell 70% of words on the home row (or something like that) I felt like it was an empirically superior layout. It took me a little under three weeks to get used to it (again, no job), but after that I was typing at 70 WPM, which is where I was at with Qwerty.

Dvorak is not “faster” than Qwerty, but after using it for five straight years at 40 hours a week I built up quite a speed. I can type about 95 WPM with bursts of up to 115 WPM. Not record breaking, but certainly in the top 5% of typists. I did find Dvorak more ergonomic than Qwerty for typing, but I still developed RSI regardless.

So, why am I switching back?

L. L. Zamenhof, creator of the Esperanto international auxiliary language.

Dvorak, like all dead languages (and it is one), is best enjoyed by enthusiasts. While it can be an enlightening experience to learn something new, it is not any more pragmatic than learning, say, Esperanto. While there are many data points that imply that Dvorak is a superior layout, ultimately, we must settle on a common format. If we tried to optimize every standard we had, we’d all being using different number systems, speaking different languages, and probably typing on a Colemak keyboard (if I’m honest). Yet we don’t, because there are harder problems to solve and these tools allow us to collaborate with each other on said problems. Somewhere, we must decide against logarithmic improvements because where we are is “good enough”.

Relevant XKCD. Source: https://xkcd.com/927/

I guess I haven’t answered the question yet; why am I switching back to Qwerty? It’s simple really: When I am typing commands into a production machine I feel like it is only responsible of me to use a properly labelled keyboard. I understand that I could purchase aftermarket Dvorak key caps, but it is not a trivial amount of money for something I can solve for free. There are numerous other benefits as well, like how using Vim movement keys (HJKL) becomes much more ergonomic when using Qwerty. This holds true for most keybindings I frequently use.

Also, now I can use someone else’s computer without awkwardly explaining how much of a giant nerd I am 😊.

Update: I’m back on Dvorak

It’s almost not worth mentioning, but I feel odd having a story with 3.2k reads about ditching Dvorak and continuing to type on it. So, for posterity: I’ve switched back to Dvorak.

Why? Mostly because it is really hard to relearn keyboard shortcuts that I’ve been using for the better part of 5 years. I learned Dvorak before I learned Emacs, so I was attempting to unravel a lot of muscle memory and it just wasn’t worth it in the end.

I just hope {Windows,MacOS,Linux} continue to support Dvorak or I’m screwed.

Patrick is a software engineer from New England. Today, he resides in Seattle where he enjoys playing chess and ice hockey.

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