Rewiring my brain and business with Colemak

Rewiring my brain and business with Colemak

Change is inevitable, neuroplasticity is real, and I have to make sure my brain can keep up.

After reading Joel’s post on the benefits of Colemak, I decided to take on learning a new keyboard layout as a challenge to end 2018 and carry me into the new year.

And let me say—when you’ve been doing something for 20+ years, like typing on a QWERTY layout, it’s almost impossible to imagine doing something different.

I’ll admit that I went into this project thinking that learning a new keyboard layout might help improve my brain’s elasticity, which then might help me continue evolving SSD Nodes and build better things for our customers.

I kept thinking about Kodak. Remember them? They went out of business because they tried to keep the film thing going when everyone else was migrating to digital photography. I’m just doing whatever I can to make sure the same doesn’t happen to me.

When I first wrote this piece in early December, typing in Colemak was tough going. After two weeks I was able to hit about 30 words per minute (WPM), which is, quite frankly, pretty slow.

I’ve been improving since then, slowly but surely, although I will switch back now and then if there’s something urgent.

And while this experiment in keyboard layouts has been compelling enough for me to continue working at it, it’s also given me a few unexpected lessons in elasticity, communication, and the future of typing itself.

Embracing being a beginner: I found it interesting to become a beginner in something again, especially when I’m pretty darn fast on a QWERTY keyboard. Because all of the SSD Nodes team is remote, I communicate most of the time through typing.

Being forced to type slowly when I’m sending an email or Slack message means I take more time to think about what I’m trying to say. And that means I generally end up being more precise and efficient about it, rather than just tapping out what first comes to mind.

Intent and clarity is everything in managing a team, especially a remote one, and I’m grateful for the unexpected perspective on how I could also get more elastic about how I talk to friends and colleagues.

Perspective on accessibility: Speaking of perspective—typing in a foreign keyboard layout has helped me remember that there are lots of people who type slowly for one reason or another.

Maybe they didn’t have access to computers from a young age, or perhaps they have a disability. They have a barrier to text communication that I don’t necessarily have all the time, and I think just recognizing that is important. Doubly so as more people move to remote work and text for just about every aspect of their daily lives.

Finding new tools to accelerate: As I struggled to increase my WPM on a Colemak layout, I started to get curious about other ways to improve typing speed. I even looked into stenotype machines—the typing machines that are used by court reporters to record in text everything that’s said in a courtroom—to see if I could get something out of it.

It turns out some people even use foot pedals to help them type.

This search into stenotype machines also inspired me to put some more thought into the tools we use here at SSD Nodes to get things done. What apps, tools, or investments could I make to help people do their jobs better? What’s working, and what isn’t? Doing an audit on the elasticity of the business, if you will, is something I’ll try to do regularly in the future.

Thinking about a typing-less future: I don’t think we’ll be typing forever. People are getting access to the internet in a wide variety of ways, and a lot of people are only using phones. Typing the way we’re most familiar, on a keyboard, with a QWERTY layout, isn’t going to last.

Colemak won’t either—don’t get me wrong—but at least I know what it feels like to completely change the way I use my computer. At least I’ve got some built-in elasticity.

And for business or my personal life, that seems like a step in the right direction.