Is a Mechanical Keyboard a Worthwhile Investment for Programmers?
If you’re a programmer, you’re likely always searching for ways to enhance your productivity. Pomodoro timers, project management tools, task automation… The possibilities are many.
Of course, this also includes hardware improvements. People coding on multiple monitors—and even using screens vertically—aren’t a rare sight in any programming team.
But what about mechanical keyboards? Are they a good investment for programmers, or just overpriced gadgets with no perceivable gains?
Are Mechanical Keyboards Good?
Many people these days favor mobility for job tasks, which most likely means using some of the best laptops for working on the go. And laptops, most likely, mean membrane keyboards.
Membrane (or chiclet) keyboards are pretty and practical, especially for laptops. They do, however, have shortcomings compared to mechanical ones.
For starters, durability. I’m not one to mistreat my electronics heavily, but any laptops I have had in the past decade and a half (all of them using membrane keyboards) had at least one key (usually several) falling off or just not working at all after a couple of years or so.
That’s somewhat by design: membrane keyboards prioritize portability, meaning that key travel is short and that the moving parts are miniaturized as much as possible. Because of this, only so much can be done for their durability. The way mechanical keyboards work is different, having more durable internals.
Another common issue is ghosting—no, not the “he stopped answering my messages after our first date” type. On keyboards (membrane ones at most), ghosting is a condition when you press multiple keys but get no response. Some of them could register, but not all.
Keyboard ghosting happens because the circuitry below the keys has a limited capacity to register the key presses. While this is something mechanical keyboards are not immune to, they often fare way better than membrane ones.
Chiclet keyboards often start failing on three-key combinations, while a mechanical keyboard is considered subpar if it shows ghosting on anything below five-key combos. Now, five keys pressed at the same time may not seem much, but this is literally how many fingers you have available if the other hand is holding the mouse.
How Can a Mechanical Keyboard Improve Productivity?
If you do, however, use both hands on the keyboard often for your work, ghosting could be an issue. The good news is that there aren’t many shortcuts that need five or more keys pressed simultaneously. Three or four keys aren’t unusual, and that’s the first plus point for mechanical keyboards.
Fewer worries about ghosting mean more confidence in using the keyboard, leading to faster typing. When you have a few thousand lines of code to work on, that’s a good way to speed up the task.
Another productivity point is that mechanical keyboards can have different switches, each with its own characteristics. If you want silent typing, you’ll have it. Keys that require less force to be pressed? Sure thing! Variable key travel is also on the menu, as are many other selling points for mechanical keyboards.
Are Mechanical Keyboards Good Specifically for Programmers?
Not just for programmers, but yes, they are. Many professionals that depend heavily on computers don’t necessarily require an advanced keyboard. For example, designers would prioritize a drawing tablet, or people who work with large spreadsheets would be thankful for a mouse with a horizontal scroll.
Other professions, including programmers, have typing as the main input method for the computer. A reliable keyboard is of utmost importance if you write a lot—be it code, news, reports, or books. With mechanical keyboards, writing flows better, no matter what you’re writing.
Other Than Coding, How Can Mechanical Keyboards Help Programmers?
Programming involves more than just coding. One needs to create documentation, write reports, use project management tools, and so on. Mechanical keyboards help in these tasks, too, because they help in everything requiring typing.
As a bonus, mechanical keyboards are great for gaming. That means you’ll need to purchase one less gadget separately for work and fun.
How Else Can Programmers Use Hardware to Improve Productivity?
If you’ve been coding for a while, you already know that RAM capacity, storage speed, and processing power are important. Compiling could take so long without them that you could go on vacation and be back before the program has been built.
But “hardware” in the strict sense goes well beyond that.
Remember the times you need to navigate 40 Stack Overflow tabs to find the answer that solves your bug? An ergonomic mouse would surely help.
Working at home? Please leave the dinner table chair at the dinner table and buy a gaming chair so long work (and play) sessions won’t take much of a toll. Your spine will thank you.
What about multiple monitors? Keep one screen for Slack, another (in portrait orientation!) for the coding, and a third one for browsing stuff like emails or the eventual Twitter break.
Mechanical Keyboards Can Help You Code
Mechanical keyboards are great for lots of professionals, including programmers. They improve productivity, help with daily tasks, and can be part of a larger physical setup to enhance your work capabilities. And after you punch out, you can use it to play your favorite game.