Thorsten Ball

No, typing can be the bottleneck

01 Sep 2020

One of the eternal laws of the internet dictates that as soon as one person says they have a new thing that lets them type faster — a keyboard, a keyboard layout, an editor configuration, etc. — somebody else must say: “but typing is not the bottleneck!”

What the second person means is that the first person is wasting their time. They’re optimizing something that’s not slowing them down. Typing is not the bottleneck, because “typing is perhaps 0.5-1% of my programming time”. Programming is thinking, talking to people, planning, researching, is what incarnations of person #2 are saying. And if you think your keyboard is holding you back from thinking, well, you’re wrong.

I get that. I don’t write code the whole day either.

But here’s what I need to write and type besides code: commit messages, pull request descriptions, emails, tickets, comments on tickets, code reviews, documentation, Slack messages, notes, journal entries, RFCs, design documents, requirements.

And being able to type fast and without much effort sure as hell helps. It lets me get back to the thinking.

Effort, that’s the important one, not raw speed. It doesn’t matter if you can type 90 words per minutes or 130, but if it takes you effort to type something and, if given the choice, you’d rather not do it, then we have a problem.

Take me on my phone, for example. It takes me a lot of effort to type on it. It’s not only that I’m slow because I can’t use more than two fingers, but every third word is a typo. Or, even more infuriating, it’s the wrong word and I need to correct autocorrect. Or I switched from English to German while typing and my phone doesn’t know what an umlaut is anymore.

If you see me typing on my phone chances are you can also hear me producing an angry growl-like sound.

Which is exactly why I don’t do it a lot. I barely use the note taking apps I have, because I’d rather type on my computer, with a proper keyboard. I often refrain from replying to messages if I don’t have to, because, yep, I’d have to type those replies.

In other words: typing is a bottleneck for me.

And it’s not just me on my phone. Ever had a chat conversation with somebody who wasn’t comfortable typing? Here’s what you get: short messages, acronyms, typos, missing sentences. You can read how they struggled to type. I once had a colleague who had the habit of walking to my desk saying “Ah, before I type all that up, I thought I’d quickly tell you in person” where “all that” was three to four paragraphs, at the most.

And that’s what this is about. If you’re not comfortable typing a lot and you’d rather not write something down then typing is the bottleneck and you need to fix it. Typing is not something you should need to think about.

Because wouldn’t it be a waste of time if you spend 99% of your time lying in a hammock, thinking, but then choose not to write all of your ideas down, because typing is the bottleneck?

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