By BoLOBOOLNE payday loans

RSI in the pinkies

A number of folks have been courting me for positions as a software development engineer recently.  Many of them sound really fun.  I love writing code, and even though it hasn’t been my professional focus for years, I think I’m still alright at it.  But I’ve had to come to a sober realization that I simply cannot take a job where writing code is my primary function.  I’m just not physically capable of it.  I just about cried during a job interview once when explaining this.

People come in my office and say "that’s a cool keyboard."  My response is generally something like "that’s what it takes."  I don’t use a $300 keyboard because it looks cool.  It’s more like a wheelchair.

I have repetitive strain injury.  It’s not carpal tunnel syndrome.  My wrists basically never bother me.  It’s more my pinkies, more the left than the right.  I can think of 3 causes.  In high-school I took a 3-day bike tour from San Diego to Santa Barbara wearing gloves that weren’t well padded.  For about a week afterwards I had no feeling in my left pinkie.  Then in 1996 a marathon perl coding session of several 100-hour weeks left my pinkies pretty sore because of all the mixed-case variables in our code. 

Also, I suspect cubital tunnel syndrome might have some part of it.  I’m not expert but my understanding is that it’s a result of spending too much time with bent elbows stretching some nerves causing problems with pinkies.  I understand the easiest thing to help is to sleep with straight arms.

The ironic thing is that with a good ergonomic keyboard I can write English text day
in and day out
, but more than about 10-15 hours/week of coding and
things start to hurt.  Writing code on a laptop in bed, fun as it is, will get to me after about 10 minutes.  Code involves tons more time on the special keys
than English.  You don’t need a lot of
[]{}()<>*=+-~&^_!#@$%/|\ in e-mail or in specs.  And you don’t
need to bounce around the arrow keys for editing nearly so much
either.  The Kinesis advantage keyboard helps quite a lot, because it moves most of the keys that the pinkies do under the thumbs.  But it’s not quite enough for me, because the shift keys are still the responsibility of the pinkies.  I’ve tried using a foot-pedal for shift, but haven’t been able to
re-train myself.  And I’m not sure I really want to limit myself by
having a job I can only do in front of a super-tricked out
workstation.  Screwing up (gee it sure would be nice to get
something done on this here laptop) means having to use a microphone
and eat grams/day of ibuprofen for a few months which I’ve done and really really
sucks.

So physical disability has sent me down an interesting career path towards middle management.  I have tons of fun in this capacity, but sometimes I miss making things work with my own hands.

Also, if any of you have hints of repetitive strain injury, I strongly encourage you to shell out the cash for a good keyboard.  It’s way cheaper than the alternatives.

  1. I also have pinky RSI and I wrote up a discussion here:

    http://www.math.ucdavis.edu/~greg/pinky-rsi.html

  2. Bronwyn Bedient says:

    Hi Leo,
    I remember watching you code at our apartment in China and being absolutely amazed. I'm sorry to hear that you've developed RSI. I have a similar problem, though really only in my right hand. I've been able to take care of most of the problem by becoming a left-handed mouser. I also travel for work two months out of the year, so I get frequent respites from sitting in front of a keyboard, though I have never thought of that benefit or travel until now…

  3. ASG says:

    Thanks for sharing! I fwd'd your post to both the staff I manage, and the staff I'm a member of as an example of why we spend so much time auditing each other for ergonomically correct behavior – specifically typing. One of my employees brought her pinky finger pain to my attention after reading your post. I'm sorry about your long-term condition, but hopefully because you shared we'll be able to avoid a permanent injury for another person!

  1. […] continue work on this at some point.  But even a couple hours of work on it has triggered my RSI so I’ll have to take a break.  If you want to pick this up, let me know and we can […]

  2. […] can trick out its Human-Computer Interface to be super high bandwidth.  You can get yourself a really nice ergonomic keyboard, multiple high-resolution monitors, and a real mouse.  A friend of mine even built himself a […]