Programmers and typists

The inimitable Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror fame (or is it Stack Overflow fame now?) recently blogged about the importance of typing skills for developers. In typical smackdown style, he posited that "coding is just typing". Jimmy Bogard disagreed, saying that the number of lines of code typed per day is actually quite small, and the productivity difference for typing that much code is quite negligable.

I happen to agree with both of them. What neither discussed is that as a developer, I type a hell of a lot more than just code. I type emails. I type Word documents. I submit questions to Stack Overflow. I type search terms into Google and URLs into the browser. I Twitter. My ability to do all of those things efficiently is affected by how well I type, and all of those things are critically important to doing my job. So while typing fast may not be hugely important for being a coder, it is hugely important for being a developer. I type all damn day, whether or not I'm coding that day.

There's another important point that I think needs to be stressed - good typing technique can help avoid repetitive stress injuries. I'm pretty convinced that my lack of RSI problems is at least in part due to good typing technique imparted by my 7th grade typing teacher. Whenever I feel a glimmer of discomfort in my hands, I can almost always attribute it to either a) too much mousing (know thy keyboard shortcuts) or b) falling back into sloppy typing technique (my great failing is one-handed modifier action - e.g. ctrl-w with one hand instead of two). Over the years I've known people that literally could not work at a computer any more due to RSI problems. Now if THAT isn't a terrifying thought that keeps your hands glued to your home keys...



  • I've never heard that about the one-handed modifier actions. I never type ctrl-a (for example) simply because it isn't particularly practical for me. It would require me to bend my wrist at an uncomfortable angle to hit control with my little finger and A with my middle.
    However, I also never formally learned to type. I kinda picked it up on the way, over the last thirty years or so.
    Interesting article, thanks!

  • What about accurate spelling?

    I worked with a great programmer, but once in a while, he'd have a mispelled variable name in the code... throughout the code. Drove me nuts to see it there, all mispelled and such.


  • Nannette,
    I partially blame intellisense for that. It's so easy to misspell the declaration and have intellisense autocomplete that error throughout the code. I've made that mistake myself.

  • In addition to what’s already mentioned, typing speed is resistance when you flush a programming concept from your brain to actual code. This is usually a flash of fast-as-you-can typing before the mental concept begins to break down. But until we can just think it and its there, typing speed will always be resistance slowing you down and obviously, we want as little resistance as possible.

  • I often just take for granted that developers can type at least 60+ words per minute.

    AT LEAST 60 words per minute if not 100-110.

    When I see some very smart developers pecking away at a measly 20 words per minute and then spending 2 hours to write a friggin' e-mail - that bothers me. Because we all know, as you point out, a HUGE amount of time is spent not coding. It is vitally important that we get back to coding as fast as possible.


  • This is why the control key should be where it was on the Apple ][, and Sun Unix type keyboards (among others). It would make one handed, left side commands pretty simple, and all the right side command become two-handed.


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