Jake Worth

My Blank Keyboard

December 17, 20152 min read

It’s been a month since I replaced all the keys on my keyboard with blank keys. Ok, I kept four of the original keys, which spell my name. This is a WASD mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Clear switches, which feel great and sound loud.


Typing on a blank keyboard is tough. It is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I was under the impression that I never looked at the keys; this proved to be false. I actually look at the keys a lot. Taking that away has been illuminating.

There’s a psychological factor at play, too. I’ve discovered that having blank keys makes me a worse typist, and I think it’s mental. I am expecting to not find the keys I need, on a subconscious level, and as a result make more mistakes. It’s a strange self-reinforcing error.

The toughest keys to do without? Numbers and symbols. As a Vim user I rely on plugin behavior like cs'" (change ‘foo’ to “foo”, via Vim.surround) and basic Vim composition like 2dd (delete two lines), and these are a lot tougher without printed keys. As a Rubyist I type a lot of instance variables like @post and interpolated strings like "#{post.body}", and these are also harder to execute.

Keeping printed keys on my laptop, where I do at least 50% of my programming, is a crutch. But switching out a Macbook’s keys is a surgery-like process I don’t intend to embark on anytime soon. I recognize that this is an obstacle. There is certainly friction in the daily switching back-and-forth.

Future Plans

I’m planning to stick with the blank keyboard for now.

Despite years at the keyboard, I’ve never been the most accurate typist, hovering around 80-90% even on basic English passages. As I result, I don’t think I’m paying a huge penalty in accuracy now; possibly I’m exposing inaccuracies that have been there all along. That’s a solid reason to keep going.

Even with the mistakes, I believe that this endeavor is making me a faster and more reflexive programmer. It’s an investment in my craft, much like learning Vim. I believe that the discomfort will be temporary. The payoff will be that I can program faster, with less mental overhead, rapidly dictating conference notes or hacking through the Clojure koans. Mr. Miyagi caught those flies with his chopsticks while blindfolded, if memory serves.

My pairs have been gracious in this pursuit. We are a nerdy bunch and suspect that they understand my goal.

Also, the keyboard just looks cool. It’s my keyboard, and I’m proud of it, like a knight of old. It stands as a daunting challenge to anybody who might try to type on it, including me. Those who can are worthy of some serious respect.

Blog of Jake Worth, software engineer in Maine.

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