Switching to Dvorak

You WordPressers will know about the Dvorak keyboard layout, but others might not. You can read the seminal piece from WordPress founder, Matt Mullenweg on why you might want to switch. I won’t get into any of it here, but will say that I’m switching  for the potential ergonomic improvements.

I just wanted to keep track of my progress as I went along. Thus:

Week 1:

  • They said it would be hellish. They didn’t lie. Remapping your brain after so long is extremely slow and frustrating. Having said that…
  • In just over a week, here I am typing this email. I’m not fast, but it’s still cool.
  • The Dvorak layout is exponentially better than QWERTY. Of course it should be, but I never expected such a difference. There’s just so much less travelling for your fingers to do
  • Dvorak+Cmd is actually the layout you want to try (instead of straight Dvorak). This allows the cmd key to override Dvorak and switch back to QWERTY while pressed, thus preserving your common left-hand keystrokes (copy, paste, close, etc)
  • For it to work at all, you need to really to 100% switch. I haven’t gone back to QWERTY since last week. It’s been an epic pain, but I’m already way better because of it
  • Typing is one thing, coding is quite another. Re-learning to type PHP, CSS, HTML and dozens of terminal commands is extremely hard on your head (I type the word ‘git’ dozens and dozens of times every day, but I just can’t seem to get the pattern to sink in!)

And that’s it for week one!

Week 2:

Things are slowly getting better. And I mean slowly. Here’s the take-aways from week 2:

  • I hadn’t realized how much of the keyboard layout I had stored in my muscle memory (as opposed to my actual memory). Turns out that it’s a lot. I start almost from scratch every morning until I type a few lines and remind my muscles what we’re doing. Hence….
  • Start each day with by typing a few “quick” paragraphs
  • Writing code is absolutely brutal. Writing <?php if () ; ?> still takes extreme concentration
  • Using the terminal is just as brutal—cd, mv, mkdir, ls, ls-la, git, etc—I was so quick with these before, they’re all very difficult to remap in my head
  • Overall, it is getting slowly getting better — it feels a little like learning Ruby after only knowing PHP. The syntax is so short and readable. Still completely foreign at first, but it just feels like it’s going to better in the long-run
  • I can definitely tell that the layout is 100% better. Your fingers travel way less.  But I’m far from experiencing any ergonomic benefit—typing this slowly means that you’ll have your hands and wrists in typing mode all the time, which gets tiring quickly
  • Last: I hope my backspace key is good and strong! I hit it at least every third letter!


I thought for sure I posted more than 2 weeks worth of updates on this, but appears not!  Ok, so to update, I’m still using Dvorak and LOVE it. My hands and wrists love it, and my brain has been completely rewired. Realistically, it took me 2-3 months before I was typing at a decent rate. In terms of frustration level, probably only the first month was really frustrating and the other two were just really slow. By months 4-5, everything was really coming together. Interestingly, I don’t type any faster now than I used to with QWERTY! The same exact (moderate) pace, but my fingers move so, so, so much less.

So there’s the quick update — better late than never! If you’re happy with QWERTY and aren’t experiencing any discomfort while typing, you might as well carry on. But if you have even the slightest RSI-related discomfort, you should really think about investing that 1-2 months of frustration and switch. I so glad I did.

Update — 2021

It's been about 8 years now and Dvorak is still going strong around here. If I was starting over, however, I'm not sure I'd chose Dvorak in 2021. A layout more specifically designed for programmers might make more sense. I'm not certain though, and I've done no research into this. Ben Frain has done a bit though. Worth a read.

Follow along →@saltcod