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January 2008

December 2007

Dvorak Benchmark

Using the Dvorak layout...

After 5 hours and 18 minutes of total practice, 26 WPM with a 3% error rate. I haven't learned all the keys yet (about half), so this benchmark is taken using a subset. Still...I'm happy with my progress so far.

The Need For Speed

I have a confession to make: I never really learned to touch type. Oh sure, I took the same typing classes in school as everyone else, but there was about a 3 year gap between those classes and when I got really addicted to computers. In that span of time, I sort of lost the skill.

Later, when I started writing lots of code, I also found that a lot of the keys I needed to hit (periods, parenthesis, slashes, and so forth) were a little farther away from the home row than I'd like. As a result, I grew up typing my own way. It goes a little something like this:

On a QWERTY keyboard, my two index fingers sit on D and K. This leaves my pinky fingers free to rest on the shift key (on the left hand) and the enter key (on the right hand). This also means my index fingers are hitting a large percentage of the keys (everything between D and K), and the rest of my fingers don't do that much work. Using this horribly hacky method, I'm able to type around 35 words per minute. Not great, but (up until now) good enough.

Lately, though, I've been doing a lot more with dynamically typed languages. Python and (more recently) Groovy, specifically. These languages are great, but one of the tradeoffs for greatly reduced code verbosity is that the editor you use can't help you quite as much. When programming in Java, usually the quickest way to type out a method name is to hit the first three letters, hit the shortcut for code completion, and wait a few hundred milliseconds or so for the editor to fill it in. But with dynamically typed languages, that feature isn't always available, because methods and properties can be added dynamically at runtime, and there's no way to know what might be there.

As a result, I've really been feeling the limitations of my home-grown typing method. And so I've made the decision to learn how to touch type...using the Dvorak keyboard layout.

Yes, that's right. Why go along with the crowd when you can be the one outcast in the room with all the vowels on the home row. In all seriousness, most sources that I've seen predict a 20% increase in speed, and a 50% increase in accuracy, when going from QWERTY to Dvorak. And considering I'll also be learning to touch-type, I expect to see a increase even greater than that. I've downloaded a really good typing trainer called Master Key, which seems to support Dvorak well, and I plan to use it for an hour a night. As soon as I've learned the entire keyboard layout, I'll start posting my WPM.

Nobody Wants Your Skanky Code

Everyone once in a while, you hear about a developer working in a shop with a draconian security policy. In these places, they don't have root access to their own machines, and it takes a call to the IT department to get even the most basic software installed. Internet access is highly regulated, and doled out on a "need only" basis. USB drives and personal laptops are strictly forbidden. Forget waterboarding, this kind of torture goes beyond all sense of decency.

To all you CTO's out there who think this is a good idea, read this well: If you don't even trust your employees enough to give them access to their own machines, you have nothing to worry about. Nobody wants your over-engineered, untested, skanky-ass spaghetti code. Nobody outside your organization could even understand it, much less steal it. The reason is, nobody in your organization cares about that code. You've made it clear that you don't care about them, and they're returning the favor by producing the most worthless product they possibly can. The most a potential thief ever do with it is glance through the source, scoffing at what he saw, and claiming that he could re-write it in 6 months. Take it from me, your Intellectual Property (ha!) is perfectly safe.

To all the CTO's who may be considering such a move, let me say this: Anyone in your organization who wants to steal your source code already has. They did it on their first day. The only reasonable recourse it to sue the pants off them if they try to distribute it.

Intellectual property isn't like loses value when it's locked away. Instead of spending lots of time and money instituting complex security procedures that slow people down and make them feel like criminals, why not hire some people you can actually trust, and give them what they need to get the job done?

Your Mother Does Not Code Here

What if we applied the unwritten rules of the office break room to our code?

Imagine, for a moment, the most disrespectful office worker of all time. He steals food from the office refrigerator. After greedily consuming every morsel, he leaves the dirty plates and discarded containers littered around the office. When confronted about his crude behavior, he explains that he "had to get some work done" and "didn't have time" to buy his own food or clean up his own mess.

This total disregard for the welfare of your coworkers would, at a minimum, gain you their contempt. Repeated often enough, it might even get you fired. And yet programmers around the world display this kind of behavior on a daily basis, creating a mess in something much more valuable than the company's break room...the company's source code.

When a software developer makes a mess in code to quickly complete accomplish a task, they're taking advantage of the rest of the team. Not only are they choosing a personal short term gain over creating durable value for the company, but they're also setting the expectation that this task can be completed in a shortened timeframe, which makes the responsible members of the team look bad.

Making a mess in code, and leaving it for others to clean up, is unprofessional. When it's done to advance your own interests this act borders on immoral. The only reason this crime is tolerated at all is that it does not occur out in the open for everyone to see.