This post is a written version of my lightning talk of the same name. You can also watch a recording of the talk on YouTube.
Let’s talk about happiness.
Happy developers are better developers, right? If you’re feeling stressed or upset, it only makes it more difficult for you to do your best work.
Now, there are a lot of things that can impact your happiness. Happiness for you might be about having a really supportive team at work; it might also be about having realistic deadlines that don’t place you under pressure. Maybe a priority for you is having a workplace that provides you lots of opportunities to learn new things and to grow in your career.
Happiness could be about all of the above, or any number of other countless personal and professional factors. These are all really big and important things to keep in mind if we want to be happy at work!
In this post, however, I won’t be talking about the big things.
Instead, for the time you’re reading this post, I’d like to invite you to think about the little things in life that can still make a big difference for us.
For an example - how about your keyboard?
A keyboard alone probably won’t turn you into this disconcertingly excited stock-photo office worker. But it could make more of a difference than you’d think! Bear with me for a little bit, and I’ll tell you how my life improved when I started caring more about my keyboard.
My Keyboard Journey
For a long time, I used a regular office keyboard just like anyone else. You know, one of those flat-looking Logitech or Microsoft keyboards that’s sitting at your desk when you rock up to your new job.
I never really thought much about my keyboard - it did its job perfectly fine, after all. But one of my coworkers at a previous job used a mechanical keyboard instead, and they loved it. For anyone unfamiliar, the general idea with a mechanical keyboard is that each key houses a distinct physical switch that you need to press down to activate that key. Compared to a standard keyboard, it’s supposed to provide a more tactile and satisfying typing experience.
Myself, I never really saw the appeal. I figured: a keyboard is still just a keyboard, right? How much of a difference can it really make?
However, a couple of years later I moved to a new job, and received my first new job paycheck, which felt like cause for celebration. In deciding what to spend some extra money on, I decided: why not try out a mechanical keyboard? I’d be using it every day, so it would be a good investment, and I’d get to see what my coworker had been raving about all that time.
So, I went off and bought myself the same keyboard I’d seen my coworker using: a Ducky Zero.
After a while of using this keyboard, I really did grow quite fond of it! It made my everyday typing experience more enjoyable, and I liked the “click” sound of the Blue switches that I had chosen (which, thankfully, did not bother the people around me at all). I’d settled on a good keyboard for me, one that would serve for years to come.
Down The Rabbit Hole
A year later, I discovered r/MechanicalKeyboards.
Up to then, I thought I knew all there was to know about mechanical keyboards. You have full-size keyboards or tenkeyless keyboards (which sacrifice the number pad), and as for looks, you either have a plain “business” keyboard or one with a bunch of flashing lights so you can feel like a Hardcore Gamer.
Looking at the Mechanical Keyboards subreddit blew my mind a little, because suddenly I was seeing all sorts of keyboards I never knew existed, like gorgeous custom compact keyboards, these strange contraptions called ortholinear keyboards, or some keyboards that were split into two distinct halves!
The more I looked into it, the more I realised that these keyboards weren’t made purely for stylistic reasons either, but reasons like:
Customisability. These keyboards would let you re-arrange keys into any layout you want, and create custom shortcuts or macros that traditional keyboards wouldn’t allow.
Ergonomics. Keyboards like the split variety would allow you to rest your hands in a more natural position when typing, helping ease RSI.
Portability. Some people would built the smallest keyboards they can so that they can take it to and from work without it requiring too much bag space.
After staring at all these amazing custom keyboards for a while, I couldn’t help developing some keyboard envy. I wanted to up my keyboard game - so I started researching how to build my own keyboard, while also looking to spruce up my Ducky a little.
I was able to find some really nice blue/black keycaps which were a perfect fit:
Even though it was a small change, having a nice new set of keycaps on my keyboard felt really nice. I’d walk into work every morning and take a moment to admire how good it looked, and I even got some compliments from coworkers on it.
Although my Ducky was still “the same keyboard”, a few interesting things started to happen at this point.
Because I liked my keyboard so much, it made we want to use it as much as I possibly could! I started making an effort to memorise more keyboard shortcuts for the software I use, and tried to make better use of the command line rather than my mouse for simple operations. I would even challenge myself from time to time to avoid using my mouse for as long as I could, to see just how far I could go using purely keyboard commands!
Over time, I really did start getting more productive because I’d had some extra motivation to learn useful shortcuts and commands.
Later on - when I did finally build my very own keyboard from scratch - I was able to start customising my layout to better accommodate the shortcuts I use, such as allowing myself to activate some key combinations one-handedly. And, of course, I was able to spend time making the keyboard look as nice as I could manage on a reasonable budget:
I even learnt some new skills through building a keyboard, such as how to solder and some basic electronics.
Getting To My Point
Anyway, that’s enough about me and my keyboard obsession. Allow me to get to my most important points.
First of all, this post is not about making you run out to buy yourself an expensive keyboard. I hope you find my story interesting, but maybe you just don’t care about keyboards, and that’s totally fine!
I think the reason my keyboard was such a big deal for me was that it took a common part of my work day and injected just a bit of fun into it. It made me happier because I was more excited about doing my work. Bit by bit, that helped me improve as a developer.
I’d like to ask you: what gets you excited for work?
Maybe you want the perfect music playlist that puts you in the coding mood. Maybe you want to decorate your desk with lovely art. Maybe you need to find just that perfect colour scheme for your favourite text editor!
These things can seem silly at times - heck, I feel kind of silly sitting here writing about my keyboards - but if you can find something that makes you more excited about work, I’d like to encourage you to invest the time and energy in pursuing that.
Your workplace won’t always be able to make you 100% happy. Anything that gets you excited for work helps pave the way for you to be a happier - and better - developer.
Thanks for reading!