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Does Typing Speed Really Matter For Programmers? 545

theodp writes "I can't take slow typists seriously as programmers,' wrote Coding Horror's Jeff Atwood last fall. 'When was the last time you saw a hunt-and-peck pianist?' Atwood's rant prompted John Cook to investigate just how important it is to be able to type quickly. 'Learning to type well is a good investment for those who are physically able to do so,' concludes Cook, 'but it's not that important. Once you reach moderate proficiency, improving your speed will not improve your productivity much. If a novelist writing 1000 words per day were able to type infinitely fast, he or she could save maybe an hour per day.' At 150 WPM, notes Cook, the world's fastest typist was still only 10x faster than Stephen Hawking."
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Does Typing Speed Really Matter For Programmers?

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  • by ChipMonk ( 711367 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @05:35PM (#34666986) Journal
    Writing an essay is entirely different from writing a function in C or Perl. Unless the essay in question is rich in physics or mathematical symbols, the author will be taking his/her fingers off home row a lot less than most modern programmers.

    Put another way, watch your error rate jump up when you quit posting on Slashdot and go back to your day job... if you have one, that is.
  • by www.sorehands.com ( 142825 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @05:38PM (#34667010) Homepage

    It does help a little to have some typing speed, but haste makes waste.

    The most important factor in programming is not speed, but solid code. If you write lots of code, but the code is buggy, the time to track the bugs will easily eat any time savings gained by speed.

    When it comes to debugging, thinking through the problem before trying to trace solve it will save more time then faster typing in the debugger. If by careful analysis, you can rule out 90% of the area of the problem, you have just reduced the time to track the problem by 90%.

  • by Giant Electronic Bra ( 1229876 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @05:39PM (#34667014)

    If you're spending most of your time as a programmer typing, or even dealing directly with source code, then there's a lot more wrong with this picture than typing speed. Keying in code should be one of the most trivial parts of the job.

    I'd say being able to type well will probably improve ones enjoyment. It may save a few minutes here and there. It is certainly annoying to watch someone else type slowly when you're waiting on something. Still, it has little or nothing to do with one's ability to program or ability to complete coding tasks quickly and well.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 25, 2010 @05:41PM (#34667018)
    Atwood's opinion is about as intelligent as saying "You can't be a good architect if you don't draw fast." Typing is an essential part of the process of being a software engineer, but typing speed is important only to the most brainless parts of the job -- parts that are likely either done by code monkeys or while the engineer is mentally processing the rest of the design.
  • Don't measure WPM (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Leto-II ( 1509 ) <.slashdot.4.toby ... spamgourmet.com.> on Saturday December 25, 2010 @05:41PM (#34667020)
    String output;
    output = "We";
    output += " should";
    output += " really";
    output += " be";
    output += " measuring";
    output += " lines";
    output += " of";
    output += " code";
    output += " per";
    output += " minute.";
  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @05:43PM (#34667036)
    A pianist is the equivalent of a data entry clerk. They have a sheet in front of them and faithfully reproduce what's on it. The person who composed the sheet music on the other hand may not even play the instrument it's designed for. I highly doubt composers of classical pieces were capable of physically playing every instrument in an entire orchestra, but based on what they wanted to do they could create the notes for it.

    Programming is the same. I would much rather a programmer actually put more thought into algorithms and design than churning out code. Ultimately what does it matter how many WPM a programmer can program anyway? Half the time they will spend their team using obscure symbols on the keyboards and actually reading / looking at cross-references and algorithms than actually punching in words. Even if a programmer can't churn out 50WPM does it matter providing he's reasonably fluent and doesn't spend 1 minute looking for the ! symbol?
  • Re:How Absurd (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zumbs ( 1241138 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @05:47PM (#34667050) Homepage
    Indeed. I am a fairly fast typist, but I seldom type at full speed when coding, as I find myself using most of my time figuring out how to implement something rather than actual coding. I tend to agree with Cook's assessment: After attaining medium proficiency in typing, the gain in productivity of faster typing is minimal.
  • by GreatBunzinni ( 642500 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @05:49PM (#34667054)

    There is a reasonable basis to assume that a slow typist is not a decent coding. After all, typing speed is something which is naturally developed as the person keeps hammering away at the keyboard. So, although typing speed does not guarantee coding proficiency, if someone does not pass enough time in front of a keyboard to develop any decent speed then it is expected that that person hasn't spent much time writing software. And if someone hasn't invested all that time writing code then quite certainly that person sucks at coding.

  • by SWestrup ( 28661 ) <sti@@@pooq...com> on Saturday December 25, 2010 @05:51PM (#34667068) Homepage Journal

    Its not the speed of the typing that matters, its the cognitive load. If you're spending all of your time trying to remember where the '}' key is, then you'll find it hard to keep your loop invariants invariant in your head. This leads to bugs.

    If you type with two fingers, but can do it without looking or thinking about anything other than your code, then it doesn't much matter how fast you go. On the other hand, if you achieve incredibly coding speed by concentrating on your fingers, your code is sure to suffer.

  • Re:How Absurd (Score:5, Insightful)

    by melikamp ( 631205 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @05:53PM (#34667082) Homepage Journal
    Atwood's comparison of programmer to pianist is braindead. Programming is like composing for piano. The quality of the product is almost unrelated to one's proficiency with keyboard. It would matter for a performance, such as coding context.
  • Of course it does (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jmerlin ( 1010641 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @06:00PM (#34667112)
    to a point. If you're horribly terribly slow at typing on a computer, you won't be able to effectively execute ideas as they happen, sometimes you really just need to pound out that ~150 lines of code you have sitting in your brain queue, if you have a significant lag between the time of inception and the time of completion, you're stuck on the same idea for a long period of time -- you can't quickly type it up, compile/test, debug it, then move on all during that while you had in mind what you needed to do next. Instead you're hopelessly focused on the single task at hand.

    However, how many programmers spend so little time working with computers that they don't have a natural typing speed of 60+ WPM? Surely most do, although I don't know anyone that can type as quickly as I do, they aren't slow at all. I'd imagine at around 50 WPM it ceases to matter really except that at 110+ you end up doing a lot of little corrections and formatting changes to your code. I find myself re-editing my code in several iterations at times, doing my thinking in text rather than all abstractly in the mind (it's easier to add up a large column of numbers on paper than it is in your mind btw), write out a quick obvious case implementation, do a quick optimization pass, then debug and write a unit test if needed.

    I think the problem with counting in lines of code is that 1 BLOC != 1 GLOC. (bad vs good). 10000 bad lines of code can probably be replaced realistically with 1000 good ones (you may get ratios of up to 100:1 if you see code like on TDWTF). If a programmer consistently pumps out 5000+ lines of code a day with no problem may be far less productive realistically than someone who only makes little more than ten percent of that but has fully debugged it, implemented strong algorithms and well researched data structures and design patterns, and even has a unit test to verify that future modifications work as expected. In the end, it matters, sure, but I do think it's more about the intelligence and skill of the programmer, not how quickly they type.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @06:06PM (#34667146)

    Frankly, I can deal with programmers who are "slow" typists. Within reason of course, but in general, unless they're coding in Pascal (and even then, they will probably have learned by now how to quickly type those 'begin's and 'end's) or another language more suited to writing novels than code, what big difference will it make provided they know how to code?

    What matters to me is their ability to use an English keyboard layout and do not have to insist in their own language. This becomes especially obvious in a multi language team (i.e. where English is the language of choice even if nobody has it as his native language because, well, it's the ONLY language they share), where you might be forced to use someone else's machine for something only to find out that you can't find ANY important characters because they're conveniently tucked away somewhere safe.

    But more important, have you ever noticed how all those important brackets and punctuation that you NEED in 99% of the languages are near impossible to type without breaking your fingers on non-English keyboard, especially if that language has to deal with a lot of diacritical characters? On most non-English keyboard the { and } brackets are only reachable with the combination of Alt-GR and 7-0. And let's not even talk about the "Polish writing keyboard layout", which is a nightmare to program with. I still think they did it on purpose, I cannot imagine that anyone could actually code using such a layout.

    If you are programming, and you happen to "suffer" from one of those layouts, try switching to an English layout. When I started to code, I was wondering who the FU.. could come up with the idea that { and } would be sensible to use for something you need, like, every other character. Once I switched to English, it started to make sense.

  • by luis_a_espinal ( 1810296 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @06:08PM (#34667168) Homepage

    There is a reasonable basis to assume that a slow typist is not a decent coding. After all, typing speed is something which is naturally developed as the person keeps hammering away at the keyboard. So, although typing speed does not guarantee coding proficiency, if someone does not pass enough time in front of a keyboard to develop any decent speed then it is expected that that person hasn't spent much time writing software. And if someone hasn't invested all that time writing code then quite certainly that person sucks at coding.

    For my own personal case, I was a typist for about 8 years before I went down the coding path so my views might be a bit skewed and subjective.

    With that out of the way...

    I would tend to agree that there is a correlation of typing speed and software development experience (or there should be for a proficient programmer with a shitload of coding man-hours.) A person that doesn't spend enough time coding will simply code at sucking. And if that person does not have typing skills a-priori then that person will not have good typing skills. So, it is fair to assume that a person that works as a programmer should have decent typing skills, not because he/she needs them for coding, but as a side-effect of programming exposure, in a manner proportional to the amount of work hours doing coding.

    That is, I would see it as suspect to see a programmer that cannot type proficiently, be it with all 10 fingers or simply with their index fingers. And I would not reserve that suspicion only to senior programmers but even to fresh-out-of-school ones. Not just good, but passionate CS/MIS students (either BS or AS degree seekers) will have sufficient coding hours under their belt to inevitably develop some typing dexterity. Passionate art students paint and sculpt a shitload. Passionate electrical engineers spend a shitload of hours building circuits. Passionate CS/MIS students spend a shitload of hours coding. In all cases, it is a shitload of hours beyond the minimum requirement to get a degree.

    Will lack of typing dexterity mean with utmost infallibility that someone sucks at coding (or that was a slacker in school)? Obviously not. But it would be hard not to see it as suspect.

    Another thing is that yes, typing dexterity helps with coding, with prototyping, with hacking. Yes, we need to plan and design before we code, but when you know exactly what needs to be done, or when you have a sufficiently good idea to start prototyping (or when you are in the middle of a hack that *must happen*), bro, you better be able to get those streams of thought fluently down to your keyboard via your fingers. If you have done coding work for real, getting down to some really nice (or ugly but necessary) code, you know what I mean - that you are in your mojo coding that thing down.

    I cannot imagine getting myself into that *zone* of coding while struggling with the keyboard. No way, no how. I cannot see how someone could get into that *zone* without good typing skills. Period.

    You don't need typing skills for design. But you certainly need it to crank some code when the muse inspire you. And if the muse doesn't inspire you often, you are either in the wrong career choice, or you suck.

  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @06:12PM (#34667198) Homepage Journal

    Most of the work do is maintenance. Finding bugs in 20 year old code. If I change two characters in one line on one day and close one bug, then thats a good day.

  • it matters a lot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MonoSynth ( 323007 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @06:19PM (#34667236) Homepage

    Touch typists generally use more verbose variable names and more comments, because it's much more natural for them to type a lot of words. This makes their code a lot more readable, which saves money in the end since a *lot* of the cost of software is in maintenance and the only performance factor that really counts is not cpu cycles, memory usage or bandwith utilization, but euros, dollars, rupees, yens or whatever your legal tender is. The programmer's time is (one of) the most costly aspect(s) of software development. A crufty codebase is much easier to read and maintian with comments *really* explaining fixes and variable names explaining what they're used for. I see so much code with comments like '// Issue #24654' or variable names like 'i' or 'j' in functions that span more than 50 lines (or whatever fits in one screen).

    Of course there's more than typing speed involved in making maintainable code and I'm sure there are non touch typists who force themselves to make their code readable, but being able to type fast without thinking helps a lot.

  • by Z34107 ( 925136 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @06:58PM (#34667394)

    A pianist is the equivalent of a data entry clerk. They have a sheet in front of them and faithfully reproduce what's on it.

    Not quite. Once you move beyond entry-level competitions, it's simply a given that anyone and everyone can play anything given to them flawlessly. Your performance is judged on how you interpreted the piece, not merely on the fact you can read sheet music.

    For example, listen to Rachmaninoff [youtube.com] playing his Prelude in C# Minor versus a newer interpretation [youtube.com]. Especially compare 1:58 in Rachmaninoff's piano roll with ~1:20 in Peter Roper-Curzon's version; there's a lot going on beyond technical accuracy.

  • by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @07:06PM (#34667436) Homepage

    You can have that in any language.

    It is simply a matter of choice. Most C/Perl people I know chose to have autocompletion off as it is not particularly useful (aside from getting braces right). C++ is on the fence. Most of Ruby developers I have worked with are definitely in the "my IDE types 2/3rds of the code for me" camp.

    IMHO if your IDE is typing 2/3rds of what needs to be typed without getting it wrong then there is something fundamentally wrong with the language. The autogenerated verbosity simply does not need to be there in that case.

  • by Haeleth ( 414428 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @07:50PM (#34667626) Journal

    Enter vim, you rarely need to remove your fingers from the home row. ;)

    Except, you know, every three seconds, unless you have remapped your keyboard so that the most important command in vim is not assigned to the far top left corner of the keyboard.

  • by devent ( 1627873 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @07:55PM (#34667642) Homepage

    I don't think so. I think it's something fundamentally wrong with the language if the IDE can't get 2/3rd of the typing right for the developer.

    Take dynamic typed languages like Python, Groovy. Half the time I need to look up what the type is and what methods are there to use instead that the IDE is just auto complete it for me. With C++ you have static typing but the language is so complex that auto completion is almost useless.

    I'm not a language purist. If the code is verbose but helps the IDE/compiler to understand the code better so the IDE can generate 2/3rd of my code for me why should I care about the verbosity? Actual, sometimes verbosity is a good thing, it helps to read the code and understand it later.

  • by Peach Rings ( 1782482 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @07:59PM (#34667652) Homepage

    Much more expressive and dense source code.

    A wall of symbols isn't preferable when you're trying to understand the algorithm that the programmer has implemented.

  • by snemarch ( 1086057 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @08:10PM (#34667690)

    IMHO if your IDE is typing 2/3rds of what needs to be typed without getting it wrong then there is something fundamentally wrong with the language. The autogenerated verbosity simply does not need to be there in that case.

    Really depends on the type of autocompletion, IMHO.

    I'll take (reasonably) verbose variable, function and class names over unix-C-style abbreviations any day - but it does require an IDE with decent autocompletion if you don't want to go insane... But given a decent IDE with "camelhumps" style autocompletion you end up typing less than the unix C programmer, while getting clearer source code.

    I find that I spend a lot longer thinking about code architecture than on actual typing - even if using Notepad++ instead of an IDE - goes for all of the languages I use (C, C++, Java, C#). But it's definitely still nice having tools that reduce repetitive mechanical strain as well as letting me navigate large-ish codebases comfortably.

Top Ten Things Overheard At The ANSI C Draft Committee Meetings: (8) I'm on the committee and I *still* don't know what the hell #pragma is for.