Spring into Colemak

In a fit of enthusiasm for the challenge of learning something new, paired with the peer pressure of working in a company where all the cool kids* use use an alternate keyboard, (along with the allure of a future where I was able to type 100+ words a minute) I decided March 2015 would be the month I switched to Colemak.

Colemak Keyboard Layout illustration by fellow Automattician  Matt Wiebe.  Available for download here.
Colemak Keyboard Layout illustration by fellow Automattician Matt Wiebe. Available for download here.

I chose Colemak over Dvorak because fewer letters move, most of the keyboard shortcuts are still the same, and punctuation marks, most of which I never learned to touch type, are in the same place.

What research has been done also finds Colemak to be slightly more efficient so it seemed like a win all around.

Getting Started

I Googled Colemak and found Colemak.com. From there I found a free typing course that seemed good and started the lessons.  When I talked about the switch at work, I got kudos and advice from Automatticians that had switched before me.  Those conversations led to the printed layout you see above and the progressive typing tutor I ended up using for most of the transition.

Unexpected Snafu

The first week of practice was fun. In week two I started to make mistakes typing in the QWERTY layout and noticed I was teaching my fingers Colemak at night, and then mostly undoing my work during the day. I decided it would be better to accelerate my learning and just switch to Colemak full-time. The problem with this plan was while I could type the home row at 25-30 wpm and my brain knew where the other letters were, my fingers did not. This resulted in real typing speeds closer to 10 wpm. By the time I realized how completely unable to do my text based job I’d become, I also realized I had gone far enough that switching back to QWERTY wasn’t a good option either.

That was embarrassing.

Luckily the people I work with are awesome, so I was able to spend 3-4 days relearning to type so that when Monday rolled around I could contribute (although more slowly again).

My Verdict

It’s been another two weeks and I’m over the worst part of the learning curve. I type well enough to do my work only slightly less well than I could when I started, and I have no plans of going back. I’m still doing typing drills at night and my speed continues to improve. I also catch myself typing without having to think about typing which gives me hope that I’ll eventually return to my previous typing speed, and maybe even surpass it.

Your Verdict

Just kidding.  I’m not going to tell you what to do.  I will say it’s a trip to rewire your brain like this.  You can almost feel the learning and unlearning happen.  That was interesting and even fun.  Not being able to work or communicate with my team was TERRIBLE.  If you do make the switch, be a better planner that I was.  I would also say do it for the learning experience or the ergonomic benefits.  The promise of becoming a way faster typist seems to be mixed at best.

*This isn’t actually true. Many awesome Automatticians are QUERTY to the core.






4 responses to “Spring into Colemak”

  1. David Bennett Avatar

    This is totally new to me, so it’s interesting to read about.

    But what is it? Is it a piece of code that changes the keystrokes? Is it only for software/faux-keyboards like on an iPad?


  2. Maureen Carruthers Avatar

    > Is it only for software/faux-keyboards like on an iPad?
    This is the best description. My physical keyboard is normal, I just have it set in the software to Colemak. So if a QWERTY typist were to sit at my keyboard and try to type “I’m here and ready to type” They would type “U’m hfpf aks pfasj gy gj;f” instead.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. susurrus Avatar

      That sounds very tricky – well done for making the switch! It takes me back to my teacher trying to teach me Greek when I was 11 in spare minutes in the corner of our classroom – not a great experience.


  3. peakperspective Avatar

    My goodness, you are a brave woman, Maureen. I could literally begin to feel my heart palpitate as I read your post and simply contemplated the idea of making the switch. I’m not even comfortable moving furniture around in my house, which apparently points to a solid need for security and sameness in my life.
    I love the idea of learning something new–the challenge of proving that one’s brain is still malleable and receptive, but having worked as a musician my whole life, I am all too familiar with the enormous pains of unlearning bad habits. It’s near torture.
    Wonderfully interesting post. Cheers!


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