StackOverflow Co-Founder Jeff Atwood Builds A $150 Mechanical Keyboard


If anyone knows far too much about their keyboard, it’s a programmer.

Professional programmers type a lot. A whole lot. So much that a flame war over which text editor/input method is best for coding (Vi! No, Emacs!) has roared on for decades.

It makes some sense, then, that a well-known coder has taken to building his own keyboard.

Jeff Atwood, co-founder of the super popular coding Q&A site Stack Overflow and author of the blog Coding Horror, has just debuted a project he’s been working on for the past year and a half: a keyboard called CODE (lovingly dubbed after one of his favorite books on programming… and, you know, the word “code”.)

To get the job done, Atwood teamed up with Weyman Kong of WASD Keyboards — a guy who builds custom keyboards for a living.

Here’s Atwood’s own words on why he decided to build a keyboard:

I was indoctrinated into the keyboard cult when I bought my first computer. But I didn’t appreciate it. Few do. The world is awash in terrible, crappy, no name how-cheap-can-we-make-it keyboards. There are a few dozen better mechanical keyboard options out there. I’ve owned and used at least six different expensive mechanical keyboards, but I wasn’t satisfied with any of them, either: they didn’t have backlighting, were ugly, had terrible design, or were missing basic functions like media keys.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 6.11.11 PM
Taken for face value, it’s just another keyboard. Hell, it probably looks a bit antiquated, like something you’d see in any dusty old computer lab around the world. Love it or hate it, that actually seems to be the point; it’s a throwback to the keyboards of yesteryear, tweaked with a few lil’ touches that only someone who types all-damn-day can appreciate:

  • Mechanical key switches: You remember how keyboard keys used to let out a resounding, satisfying click when you pressed a key? That was due to the mechanical switches, which keyboard makers have moved away from outside of their specialty lines for cost/engineering reasons.
  • Backlit keys: Until pretty recently, finding a keyboard that was both backlit and mechanical was a challenge (though, at this point, most of the major keyboard makers have at least one with both.) CODE has both. The backlight can be set to any of 7 brightness levels, or disabled all together.
  • Easily swappable keys so you can switch the arrangement of your keys (to QWERTY, Dvorak, or whatever) without worrying about the switch underneath busting apart.
  • DIP switches on the bottom of the keyboard let you switch between QWERTY/Dvorak/Colemac at a hardware level, disable the Windows key, swap CMD/ALT for use with Macs, or turn the caps lock key into a back up CTRL key.
  • Media (Play, pause, etc.) keys built in as secondary functions on the navigational keys — that is, holding the Fn key turns INSERT in Play/Pause, PgUp into Volume Up, etc.
  • Comes in both 104-key and 87-key (read: no number pad) variants, since some consider the num pad a nuissance that just makes them reach further for their mouse.

In fewer words, it’s the dream keyboard of a guy who has probably typed more than you and me combined.

While that $150 price tag seems a bit steep (especially if you’re just using whatever keyboard came with your desktop, or the one built into your laptop), it’s right around the going rate for a mechanical/backlit keyboard from one of the big guys. Logitech’s G710? $150. Razer’s BlackWidow? $139. Not bad for something that’s made in smaller batches, though it’s probably well outside what most people would pay for a keyboard.

You can find Atwood’s post about his keyboard here.