Mark Pearl

Over the last three weeks it appears that I have developed either ‘carpal tunnel syndrome’ or something similar. It began with occasional numbness in one or two of my fingers on my right hand and has rapidly progressed to be almost constant across both my hands. It is frustrating, painful and has resulted in me having to re-look at the physical layout of my workspace.

One of the things I have had to look at changing was my keyboard. Up till a week ago I had a Steel Series Mechanical Keyboard. My Steel Series keyboard has served me well - when I started with it I was typing at a rate of about 40 wpm - over time I had improved to 80 wpm. I’m a real fan of the Steel Series keyboard. Unfortunately when the numbness started I decided to move from a standard keyboard layout to an ergonomic keyboard - my Steel Series keyboard just won’t do.

Deciding on which ergonomic keyboard to get was tough. There are a lot of choices. After much research and consultation I eventually settled on the Kinesis Advantage Pro.

It met my 3 main criteria:
1) I wanted something fully hardware re-programable
2) It needed a split key layout
3) I had to be able get it now!

Before placing an order for my new keyboard I read and watched several reviews on it. What eventually swayed me was feedback from a developer who had purchased and tested several keyboards - in particular I liked the fact that he was doing similar work to myself and had probably faced the same challenges. So I took the plunge and placed an order on Amazon. It was exciting.

Then the keyboard arrived. My whole world was turned upside down. The first day was about as frustrating a day as I have ever had. I moved from being a competent above average typist to someone who couldn’t even type my name. It was demoralizing. Many times that day I questioned whether I made the right decision (the keyboard was not cheap). Having read numerous positive reviews before I bought the keyboard I decided to soldier on…

Day two wasn’t much better. I could now type my name in, but it took a really really long time. Everything was unfamiliar. I again questioned the decision, again the price tag on the keyboard and the positive reviews I had gotten before I made the purchase kept me committed but it was a another tough day.

It’s now almost a week since I have had the keyboard. I’m still not comfortable with the new layout, but I am making headway. I’ve used TypingMaster to help get me up to speed with the normal keys - I still have the special keys to conquer. While the numbness in my hands has not gone away, it doesn’t feel like it is getting worse. Looking back at this week it has given me a new found appreciation for people who are good at what they do, who then have to learn a new a new way. For instance, my heart goes out to those people who did good work using waterfall methodologies who then have agile methodologies pushed on them. I can appreciate how frustrating it could be - even though in the long run it might be the right thing to do.

Learning Outcomes

  • When going through difficult change, having people who you respect who have been there and can testify to the benefits helps.
  • Understanding at a principle level first why the change is beneficial can help you stay the course.
  • Having a high price tag to something and making it hard to exit early can help people move past the J curve.
  • Experts learning something new may get more frustrated at a change than novices - even if in the long run the change is beneficial.

*Update - One and a half years later!

It has been over a year and a half since I made the move from my Steel Series to the Kinesis Advantage Pro. It took me about 2 months after transitioning to the Kinesis to feel comfortable. I had many dark days, and then one day it all just clicked.

Making the transition was hard, but it was totally worth it:

  • The numbness in my hands has gone away.
  • I’ve also not only reached the same typing speed I had previously, but gotten even faster.

Ironically I’m no longer using the Kinesis but I’m also no longer using my Steel Series keyboard - I’ve found something better - I’m using an ErgoDox!

So why am I no longer using the Kinesis?

Don’t get me wrong, the Kinesis was a step forward from the Steel Series however there were a few itches it didn’t scratch. For why I moved to the ErgoDox and a run down of both keyboards read my post on the Ultimate Developer Keyboard.

Was the transition from the Steel Series to the Kinesis a waste?

No, not at all. The ErgoDox & the Kinesis are very similar. In fact, it only took me about a week to transition from the Kinesis to the ErgoDox because they shared many like concepts:

  • Both fully re-programmable
  • Both have split layout
  • Both move frequent keys from pinkies to thumbs

Looking back at the whole journey I’m really grateful I had the experience. It has also given me a new found appreciation for change.

Long term learning outcomes on change

Change can be painful, make sure you are committed

Change can be extremely painful. Some days I really wanted to give up. Had it not been for the “money” I forked out for the keyboard I would have given up.

I cannot imagine a world where I don’t have a keyboard like the one I have now. It has been totally worth it. Being fully committed to change something is important - if you don’t have something to loose you are not going to change.

Speak to people who are on the same journey

I spoke to several developers who had the same issues as mine before I attempted changing keyboards. I also watched several youtube reviews from developers on various keyboards. Their feedback gave me hope. They had been down the same road that I was going through, had similar challenges and had succeeded.

It is important that you relate to and trust the people you speak to for advice. For software companies that are trying to change, I feel a practice like Team Tourism is very important. Try it!

You gain deep insights from doing

At the beginning of this journey I would have battled to have motivated why the move from a ‘normal’ keyboard to something like the Kinesis or ErgoDox would be worthwhile. I had a hunch, but because I hadn’t really experienced both worlds I did not really know.

Now that I have been in both worlds I’m able to articulate what the benefits are, and what the challenges one is going to face in detail. I’ve moved from having a hunch to having some real knowledge - my original keyboard’s flaws are now very very apparent to me.

Get your trial period to be the right length

I’m a proponent of the phrase “short experiments with quick feedback”. I fear I would have given up too quickly on the Kinesis if I had just done a short experiment! I needed an appropriate length experiment!

Being in a tough place can cause big breakthroughs

I would never have made the transition had I not had numbness in my hands. It was a potentially career ending situation which forced me to look at something radical. Being in a tough place can cause big breakthroughs. I see companies that are also at places where if they don’t adapt they become irrelevant. This can be a strong driver for change.

What you think is the end is often just a stepping stone

When initially having the issues with my hands I thought the Kinesis would be where I would end up. It wasn’t, it was a stepping stone. When we look at problems, we often see a solution and then fixate on that. Once having adopted a solution for an appropriate period of time it is important that we don’t get stuck and can move forward.

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