Learn to type, please

We focus on the complicated things about our profession and forget about the basic stuff that’s indirectly causing problems on our daily lifes.

Is there an actual reason you are typing the way you are typing?

Do you type correctly? Or do you think you’re typing correctly?

What is typing?

A short definition by Wikipedia:

Typing is the process of writing or inputting text by pressing keys on a typewriter, computer keyboard, cell phone, or calculator. It can be distinguished from other means of text input, such as handwriting and speech recognition. Text can be in the form of letters, numbers and other symbols. The world’s first typist was Lillian Sholes from Wisconsin, the daughter of Christopher Sholes, who invented the first practical typewriter.

Everyone nowadays has a sense of what does Typing is. We spend around 8-10 hours a day in front of a computer or a computer-powered device (such as smartphones, tablets and/or other devices with text inputs) so we all use a text-based input at some point.

We’re so used to type that we often forget how important it is to learn how to type correctly. As a programmer, my main focus is to get my thoughts and ideas on my code as fast as I can, often resulting in typing as a natural barrier that slows-down my programming process (or just focusing more on symbols and correct code writing than actual development).

Why learn to type?

As I said earlier, we spend a monstrosity of time in front of computers. Our main inputs are the Mouse (by clicking on the Graphical User Interface thingies) and the Keyboard (by typing into text-fields or plain text into the terminal). This input devices require some amount of training to make easier our interaction with the computer.

Not typing properly is related with hand injuries, headaches, neck pain, eye damage and postural damage. We assimilate this issues with unrelated things as the workload or the amount of time in front of the device. This article is written from a programmer’s experience, but it should be taken seriously by every professional using their computer on a daily basis (spoiler: everyone).

When we are kids, we begin learning techniques to eliminate the barrier of communication with the computers by training our muscle memory.

Muscle Memory

Have you ever noticed how repeating a task makes it become easier over time? Well that’s what the muscle memory is for.

In music, the way to master an instrument is simple: You need to practice a lot. You begin with simple songs at slow tempos, gradually increasing the beats per minute (BPM) until you’re able to play at the right speed. Some musicians like to practice musical pieces faster than the specified BPM to really master the song.

Muscle Memory is in charge of learning and retaining the muscular movements associated with a specific task, the more you practice the task, the easier it becomes. Musicians are aware of this, and they spend several hours a day practicing becoming pros on particular instruments.

We all have the ability to train our muscle memory, musicians practice with determined exercises to learn the best playing techniques so learning future songs and playing can become almost non-existent. It is important for musicians to master their instrument, so they can focus on the important stuff: Thinking.

As professionals, our priority should be thinking on new ideas, thoughts and abstractions without even thinking about the interface to the outside world of those things.

Typing a lot makes it easier

If you keep typing, you might notice it becomes easier and easier, the more you type, the more fluid and professional you become at it.

But there’s a problem, a bad-typing-technique can cause dangerous issues. We tend to overuse a specific hand or just keep watching at the keyboard as we type, resulting in typos, grammar and semantic issues among other things.

Learning good-typing-practices will do a lot for you:

Actually typing is the most required technique in our digital world but no one cares about it. We just assume everyone knows how to type correctly and fast enough to be productive on the computer.


What the hell is WPM?

Words Per Minute (WPM) is a measure of someone’s ability to write stuff (words) on a fixed amount of time (a minute). These words are standardized to be five characters long and the faster you can type, the better.

How many WPM I should be writing at?

For a normal user, 45 WPM is the recommended speed. This allows you to fluently write in a computer without become tired and leaving thinking space for your brain so you can focus on the important stuff.

As a programmer, the recommendation is to be writing at 60+ WPM, this because the amount of text we sometimes need to write in order to get a specific thought on our program (Hey Java! We still hate you no matter how fast we can type!). The faster we type, the easier it becomes to write more useful code.

How can I measure my WPM?

There are a lot of online WPM tests that can help you measure and even compare your speed with someone else. There are even some games out there you can try!

Does it really makes a difference?

Short answer: yes, it does.

When I began coding, my typing skills were awful, I spent most of my time just trying to find the goddamn symbols rather than actually learning to code. As the time went by, my hair became gray and my typing became better. I thought my typing issues were over, so I started writing hundreds of lines of code and learned a bunch of different languages and techniques.

By the time I began coding for money professionally, my hands will often hurt during evenings, some neck pain and back pain was a common everyday-issue and I assumed it was my workload which was causing those problems.

How do I noticed it was a typing problem?

Well, it was pretty obvious. As a former piano player, I knew that some repetitive use of my hands could cause some pain but also, I knew which amount of pain isn’t normal. When I began noticing muscular damage, I knew something was wrong.

I immediately took a typing test and turns out I was using my right hand nearly for every single key available on the QWERTY keyboard.

Is it worth learning?

At the beginning you’re going to feel a bit frustrated! Be aware of it; you’ve spent years typing and training your muscle memory into some bad typing techniques. Getting rid of those is hard.

Also, typing takes time, a lot of time.

It takes at least 2 weeks for you to actually start typing at a decent rate (30 WPM or so). So you should be prepared for frustration and a lot of mistakes and crying.

Actually typing text is hard-enough to master, so don’t expect to write code immediately. Actually, writing code is the most-demanding skill in typing, so it should take a while before you can actually write code at a decent speed.

Where can I learn?

There are a bunch of sites and great software out there, here are my favorite ones:

A few personal recommendations

For comments and feedback, you can find me on Twitter as: @humbertowoody.