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Friday Philosophy – Is Dave Working? October 17, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,

Is Dave across the desk from you working at the moment? Or is he goofing off? You can’t see his screen but I reckon you can make a fair stab at what he is up to, without recourse to any sort of IT monitoring systems at all. How?

How fast is Dave typing?

If Dave is typing fast, he is almost certainly not working. He’s goofing. There are very few things you can do when you work in IT where you type fast – and especially not type fast for more than a few seconds. If Dave is typing fast he is almost certainly emailing a mate or instant-messaging Sandra in the development team. If Dave is typing fast, pausing for a few seconds and then typing fast again, he is *certainly* conversing electronically with a friend. This will be 100% corroborated if he smiles, sniggers, smirks, laughs or just glances around furtively.

Longer periods of typing (say a minute or two) and then pausing for a similar time then Dave is probably working, say documenting something or writing a work-related email {or,perhaps a blog post – *cough*} . The clinchers here that indicate work is being done are (a) he will not be smiling or showing any signs of happiness and (b) there will be bursts of “tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch” where the delete key is being pounded to remove an offending line or block of text. {People in IT always seem to delete text by repeatedly hitting the delete key. Higher forms of life, like secretarial staff, are more likely to select the text and hit the delete key once. Or, even, the first character of what they are going to type next. Why do those of us in IT just pound the delete key?!?}.

I hope the people around me have not noticed I am less miserable than usual, else they will know I have stopped documenting and I am now blogging…

Fast key tapping but in an oddly “monotone” way (the same key or keys over and over again) and a fixed stare and maybe the odd bit of bobbing the head or ducking – Dave is playing a game. Naughty Dave. Huge amounts of mouse woggling will also be evidence of game playing. That or doing graphical database design – but who does any design work these days….?

Any periods of fast typing for more than seven seconds are a sure indicator that no coding is being done. The seven second ceiling is a scientific fact, derived from 25 years of coding and goofing off :-). I have only ever known one person who can write code fast without pauses and he was a very odd chap indeed. A very, very good programmer though.

So, if Dave is staring fixedly at the screen, typing for a few seconds (probably slowly), pausing for a minute and frowning/muttering/swearing, he’s coding. Probably. He could be Googling for a new blue-ray play or something – googling for stuff you want to buy and coding seem to have the same sort of typing pattern and even the same air of general annoyance and confusion, with the very occasional “whoop” of success.

I think you can make a pretty accurate guess about whether someone is working or goofing, and even what type of working or goofing they are doing, purely from the sound of the keys and the facial expression.

I love the “techie” bits in films where the designated nerd sits down at the keyboard and goes “tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap” at high speed and windows of data pop up and scroll up the screen at 30 lines a second or images flash by quicker than you can follow. They never delete anything they type, no typoes occur, they never have to check the correct flag or format for a command. And they never. Ever. Ever. Use the space key.Those thumbs never clatter the big bar, the fingers just bounce up and down on the main keys as though they were playing a rather odd piano.

You check next time the techie nerd bit on a film comes up. (S)he will not use the space key at all. Even if spaces appear on the text on the screen 🙂

So, any fast typing and any sign of happiness and Dave is probably goofing. Both together and he certainly is. And if you never hear the space bar rattle, Dave is in a film.


1. David Harper - October 17, 2014

Hey, quit listening to me typing! And don’t call me Dave. I hate that.

mwidlake - October 17, 2014

I was careful not to mention the typing pattern for watching porn….

2. Paul Moore - October 17, 2014

I always assumed those guys on films were using vi and had mapped asdfkjk to “iupload virus”…

mwidlake - October 17, 2014

Nice idea… I’ll dig out the one with Jeff Goldbloom in it and check out the key strikes.

3. jgarry - October 17, 2014

I have known several coders who would type fast. One was reeling out assembler. One would put his feet on the desk, facing away from the terminal, and type with both index fingers extremely fast, in one of several languages (one of which was a multi-database-engine product he designed himself). These were in the ’80s.

But in general, it’s true. More important is how management handles it. Especially when googling something for actual work loads up the tracking software with ad links.

mwidlake - October 17, 2014

I might address the attitude management to typing speed at a later date. It’s oddly relevant in my past history of management…

How long could any of your old past colleagues keep up the turbo-speed typing without a pause? And are you *sure* they were completely human? I had my doubts about my friend who could just pout code out at 100+ words commands a minute…

4. David Thieke - October 18, 2014


You’re the Best Mate !

You really made me laugh.

Sadly, you’re on to me and my typing scam.

Hopefully my Dilbert pointy haired boss isn’t also wise to my facade, but just to be safe, I’ll have to type slower in the future.

Thanks ! Dave

5. Brian Tkatch - October 19, 2014

Ugh! I’ve been nailed. I’m even self-conscious while writing this comment. 🙂

Sniggers? OK, new word for me. “busts”? Perhaps you meant “bursts”.

mwidlake - October 19, 2014

H Brian – thanks for catching the typo, now corrected.

“Sniggers” is maybe a UK slang word, meaning to laugh in a half-suppressed or hidden way. It can have overtones of the laugh being childish, insulting or rude.

6. Pino - October 19, 2014

“Why do those of us in IT just pound the delete key?”

Ctrl+Shift+left allows selecting previous words, but selecting areas that don’t start and end on what one’s editor considers a “word boundary” takes individual Shift+left presses that are just as slow as pressing backspace multiple times. Selecting a large area is fast with a mouse, but pounding backspace doesn’t require moving the hand all the way to the mouse or (worse) up to the touch screen.

mwidlake - October 19, 2014

I actually often use shift up-arrow and down-arrow to select a block of text, then fine-tune with ctrl-shift etc. But then, I have to delete a lot of text as I right a lot of rubbish….

7. David Kurtz - October 20, 2014

It’s Monday morning and I am commenting on your blog. Draw you own conclusions!

mwidlake - October 20, 2014

I am a pictures man, Mr Kurtz 🙂

8. David Harper - October 21, 2014

“Why do those of us in IT just pound the delete key?!?”

Possibly because some of us first learnt our trade back in the days before the computer mouse, when the keyboard was *the* input device, and some terminals were so dumb that they could only beep in outrage if you tried to use the arrow keys 🙂

mwidlake - October 21, 2014

I’d not thought of that Mr Harper, and you are of course correct. We are so old and grouchy now. I remember the pain of trying to get a load of nurses to use the “new-fangled” mouse on the system we were delivering to them. The cursor keys we had more luck with.

David Harper - October 21, 2014

I still remember my joy when I used my first full-screen text editor. On my first mainframe computer, a GEC 4000, the editor was only able to display a single line at a time on the screen. Editing long FORTRAN source code files was … interesting.

mwidlake - October 21, 2014

You win by a long chalk David. My first “corporate”computer exposure was at college, which was brief and pointless, so my first real exposure was in my first job and we had the joy of VT100s and soon VT220s 🙂 so 20 plus lines of text. But I was one of the few tasked with going and correcting corrupt files at the byte level on our hospital’s VAXes and PDP11s. Ahhh, the joy of the simple life.

jgarry - November 3, 2014

I remember being so happy for a vt-52 after all those card decks.

9. Friday Philosophy – Is Dave Productive? | Martin Widlake's Yet Another Oracle Blog - November 7, 2014

[…] as a start there is my last Friday Philosophy all about analysis of work profile via auditory analysis of input devices (ie how fast is Dave typing) 🙂 I have to say, the response to that topic has been very good, […]

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