Switching to Dvorak as a web developer


I’m invested in QWERTY. I don’t want to change keyboards if I can, but I was forced to switch to Dvorak. My left-hand ached when I typed in QWERTY.

And I didn’t like Dvorak.

(At first)

But I’ve grown to like it.

In this article, I want to share how I switched over to the Dvorak system. This process is the same as learning any other skill.

If you had problems learning how to code, you’ll benefit from learning this process.

What’s Dvorak?

Dvorak is a keyboard system like QWERTY. Both Dvorak and Qwerty have the same number of keys, but they have different arrangements.

Many people claim Dvorak to be a “better” system because commonly used keys are placed in the middle (home) row. You can type faster because it’s easier for you to reach these keys.

Arrangement of keys on a Dvorak Keyboard. Image from https://www.dvorak-keyboard.com

Switching to Dvorak was painful

I couldn’t type a word in Dvorak without making a bunch of mistakes. I had to hit delete so many times that my right-hand ached.

I wondered if it’s worth learning Dvorak. I switched away from QWERTY because my left-hand ached when I typed. If switching to Dvorak means my right-hand would ache, then there’s no point in switching.

But I continued learning Dvorak because I knew I can get better.

Learning to touch-type with Dvorak

Many people recommend buying Dvorak stickers or using a Dvorak keyboard to learn Dvorak. If you do this, you can look at the keyboard if you don’t know the location of the key you’re trying to type.

I didn’t buy any Dvorak stickers (or keyboard) so learning Dvorak was especially difficult for me at the start. I don’t want to buy them because I want to learn to touch-type. Touch typing means you type without looking at the keyboard. If you can touch type, you will type much faster.

The idea is: if you look at the keyboard when you learn, you’ll develop a habit of looking at the keyboard when you type. In that case, you won’t be touch-typing.

So when I learned Dvorak, I left a picture of the Dvorak keyboard open on my screen. This helped me learn to touch-type without looking at my keyboard.

Note: Not buying Dvorak stickers a critical decision that made my transition successful. More on this later.

How I learned Dvorak

**I learned basic Dvorak through https://learn.dvorak.nl.**It splits Dvorak into five levels. The first level is the starting position you use when you touch-type. Then, each level increases in difficulty as more keys are added.

  1. Home row, 8 keys (starting position)
  2. Home row, 10 keys
  3. Home row + C F K L M P R V
  4. Home row + B G J Q W X Y Z
  5. The entire Roman alphabet (A - Z)

While learning to touch-type with this system, I realized what the small protrusion underneath the F and J keys were for.

They’re where you place your index fingers. Once you place your index fingers, the rest of your fingers fall into the starting position automatically. You can use these protrusions to help you get to the starting position.

Go slow

You will want to speed through the exercises.

But you can’t.

When you try to speed through, your QWERTY muscle memory will kick in, and you’ll type QWERTY. If you want to type in Dvorak, you need to overwrite that QWERTY muscle memory with Dvorak.

This best way to overwrite your muscle memory is to go slow. Type each letter on the Dvorak keyboard with intention. The slower you go, the easier it is for you to overwrite the muscle memory.

Give yourself time.

When I started, I practiced typing in Dvorak with learn.dvorak.nl for 1/2 hour a day. Once I complete the five levels, I tried to type Dvorak as I write.

This is where it gets challenging.

Writing in Dvorak

When I thought of the words I wanted to type, my fingers moved towards QWERTY automatically even though I was trying to type in Dvorak!

Here’s why it happened.

When you write, you do two things simultaneously:

  1. Think of the words to type
  2. Move your fingers on the keyboard

If you have been typing in QWERTY for a while, this process becomes automatic. Which means you need to overwrite muscle memory again.

To overwrite the muscle memory, you need to go slow. Think of a word you want to type. Pause after thinking of the word. Then, type each letter of the word in Dvorak. This will train your fingers to respond with Dvorak.

It will be painfully slow at the beginning. Trust the process. You’ll get faster.

On the first few days, you’ll get frustrated with Dvorak very quickly. ** If you notice yourself getting frustrated, stop using Dvorak for the rest of the day**. Type in QWERTY instead. This will help reduce your resentment towards Dvorak. If you resent Dvorak, you won’t be able to learn it.

Start typing in Dvorak again tomorrow.

Do this every day.

One day, a strange thing will happen. When you try to type in QWERTY, some Dvorak will appear. And you’ll get frustrated with typing QWERTY.

This is the point where you ditch Qwerty and go full Dvorak. It’ll take some time before you become proficient, but the hard part is already over.

Keyboard shortcuts

It’s hard to change muscle memory for keyboard shortcuts. This is because most keyboard shortcuts are built for QWERTY users. They’re not built for Dvorak users.

For example, Cut, Copy, and Paste use X, C, and V respectively. They’re next to each other on Qwerty. But in Dvorak, X, C and V keys are in different places. This is a combination I use so much that it’s hard to change.

Plus, different programs contain shortcuts. It’s going to be a pain to change muscle memory for every program I use.

This problem almost made me want to go back to QWERTY again (after all the effort I spent!).

I solved the keyboard shortcuts problem with the Dvorak-QWERTY ⌘ keyboard. This is a Dvorak variation that exists in Mac OS by default.

The Dvorak-QWERTY ⌘ means:

  1. Keys are mapped to Dvorak normally
  2. Keys are mapped to QWERTY when the ⌘ key is held

This meant I only have to change my muscle memory for shortcuts that don’t use the ⌘ key. It made the switch bearable.

Learning Dvorak and learning skills

My experience with the Dvorak learning process can be applied to learning any skill.

First, you will always experience frustration.

The best way to overcome frustration is to let yourself take a break. Let the frustration subside by itself and try learning again the next day.

Little by little, you’ll learn the skill, and you’ll become proficient at it before you realize.

**Second, start with the end in mind. **

I knew I wanted to touch-type with Dvorak. To touch-type, I had to force myself to learn Dvorak without looking at Dvorak keys.

If I didn’t start with this end-goal, I would have succumbed to the temptation to buy a Dvorak keyboard.

If I bought a Dvorak keyboard, I wouldn’t have been able to learn to touch-type. I know this because I don’t touch-type the correct way with QWERTY. (I use my left hand more than my right hand). And I never managed to learn to touch-type with QWERTY even though I want to. Lots of excuses, no time, etc.

Wrapping up

Learning skills takes time. Give yourself enough time to learn it.

Don’t stress yourself up too much. If you get frustrated, take a break for the rest of the day. Try again tomorrow. You’ll get there.

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