If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Touch Typing

I was thinking about the post I wrote last month where I listed the five most important decisions of my adult life. While these are certainly the monumental decisions, it feels like there have been dozens of small ones and each of those have ended up making a large impact in my life.  One such decision was to learn how to "touch type."

I had the opportunity to learn when I was in middle school.  It was one of the electives we were offered. I remember at the time thinking there was no way I'd want to type.  It was so secretarial. Instead I took sewing.  I'm not sure how that was any better but I ended up making a toy daschund, which I gave to my sister.

Fast forward a few years and I landed my first job.  It was in retail and I was a cashier.  I was only on a register for a few months when they promoted me to the "back office."  Most of my responsibilities revolved around counting money, making change and answering the phone.  Still it was fun.  I liked my colleagues, was usually pretty busy, and felt important.  There were some internal politics and I ended up getting highly offended.  I quit in a fit of righteous indignation.  The next day I realized I didn't have a job or the money to pay the bills.

So I found another job.  It was also in retail and I was again in the back office.  This time I wasn't counting money but doing even more meaningless tasks.  The owners were horribly racist and I was miserable.  I decided I needed a real job, which to me meant an office job out of retail.  However all of those jobs required I pass a typing test first.

This was still in the days before personal computers so typing as something you did on a typewriter. I had an old manual one I used to henpeck out my papers for college but that wasn't going to cut it. So I enrolled in a class at the local YMCA.  I remember sitting in a dingy room with banks of big clunky electric typewriters.  The instructor would have us type some inane sentence (the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog) and you would hear everybody's keys clacking away.  I tried hard to get a rhythm for it in the 4 weeks of the class.

By the time it was over I wasn't fast or particularly proficient but I did have the keyboard memorized.  I applied for many jobs, went on several interviews, and did really poorly on all the typing tests.  I finally did well enough to land a job in a manufacturing department of a publishing firm. Ironically, that job eventually opened the door for two of my sisters to get positions and each of them met their husbands in the company.

My boss was incredibly patient with me.  I typed all of 40 words a minute and most of the words contained an error.  The bulk of my job was to type up orders, which came in sevenplicate.  This meant that when I made a mistake I had to white out all seven copies.  My boss would look at my mangled orders, sigh and sign them. I was supposed to practice my typing during my down time and I usually did.  We had a lot of down time and I made friends with the woman across from me.  She was a writer and we would each type out long letters to one another (or she would type stories and I would type letters) since we were supposed to look busy and not talk too much.

Eventually I improved but by the time I did was promoted to a position that didn't require much typing. I kept it up anyway. When I finally left that job, my speed and proficiency at typing tests landed me several other administrative jobs.  In most of them my typing tasks were minimal but my accounting skills were well utilized.  I was now counting money on spreadsheets.  It is interesting that I never had to take a math test.  My bookkeeping skills were always assumed.

Of course now it is completely different.  Everyone has computers and everyone types.  All the typing I do know is straight from my head to my fingers (a far more efficient system to be sure).  But it was that silly typing class and overcoming the obstacle of the typing test that set me on my way.


Catherine said...

I deeply regret not learning to touch type. Like you, I felt it would pigeonhole me; instead it kept me from getting the right kind of jobs. I also took a class post college but was never good and let it drop.

Drax said...

OoH. Ooh. Professor! I have a story like this! I crashed-through an entire weekend to learn touch type; there was a job I desired, I had get my speed up to (gasp) 45! IT WAS HARD. But I did it.

Excellent post.

Annie said...

I learned to type in 9th grade. It was a 9 week session and it's served me well my entire life. We learned to type with all of the drills, and with blank keys, so you had to learn the positions by "feel."

Unfortunately, though most kids, teens, and many adults type, it is far from knowing how to "touch type." Most of today's kids don't get enough practice with cursive writing, so they print when they write, a much slower process. Many of them never took keyboarding, so they do a "bastard" type of typing, where they may use two hands, but they look to see the keys and they've developed their own patterns- Or... maybe that's just my son!

I do think he realizes it's better to type for real, and he's working with a typing program, here and there, partly because I offered him his first laptop, when he shows me he'll be able to take advantage of it for college notes and papers.

I know I'm a better writer because I type fast, and it's easy to revise with word processing. My first college papers were on an electric typewriter, and the first typewriter I had with any memory, when I was earning my masters degree, only had about twenty viewable characters at a time.

Thanks for sharing about your jobs. It reminded me a bit of my mother, and how important typing was for her to get decent jobs, first when she was eighteen, in Washington, D.C., during World War II, working for the war department; and later, during the times she had to work and she had the skills for secretarial and bookeeping positions. I think she typed 70 or 80 words per minute!