ErgoDox EZ Users

Lionel Montrieux

Software Engineer and Engineering Manager

Who are you, and what do you do? What do you like to do outside of work?

Hi! I am Lionel, and I’m a software engineer. These days I’m more of an engineering manager, as I manage a team of five very talented backend engineers. I live in Berlin, Germany, but I am originally from Belgium. I’ve also lived in the UK and in Japan, before moving to Germany.

I enjoy cycling (with a cheap commuter bike, but it’s plenty of fun anyway), and eating delicious food. I’m a geek at heart, so of course I also like to work on personal and toy projects, learn new languages, etc.

I also love reading. I read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction. I often read several books simultaneously. Right now I’m reading Inspired by Marty Cagan, a great book about product management; and The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who needs no introduction.

Lionel Montrieux's setup
A work-at-home setup with all the essentials, including books

What hardware do you use?

At work, I have a ThinkPad T480s running Ubuntu. At home, I use both an old but indestructible ThinkPad laptop (T460) and a desktop that I built earlier this year. It’s based on an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X CPU, with 32GB RAM and a middle-of-the-road GPU. The case is an NZXT H510i, which I think looks great. I have a Razer Kiyo webcam and a simple Amazon Basics microphone. My monitor is a 27” 4K monitor from LG.

Lionel Montrieux's setup, lit up
A brilliant and beautiful setup

I am writing this during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Germany is progressively easing the restrictions on day-to-day life. Like many, I have been working from home for just over two months, and will probably continue working from home for at least a few more months. A comfortable setup for work is very important, as well as good audio and video quality for remote meeting—buying the webcam and the microphone made a world of difference. I have an Ikea standing desk, but to be honest I don’t use it standing very much. I have a no-name chair that is surprisingly comfortable to sit on for extended periods of time.

My mouse is a Logitech MX Vertical, which is a bit easier on my wrist than a standard mouse, and my keyboard, an ErgoDox EZ, arrived just in time, a few days into the confinement in Germany. This keyboard is amazing.

Lionel Montrieux's setup, closer in
Everything kept close to hand

And what software?

I run Linux at work and at home. At work, I spend a lot of time in G Suite (Gmail, Chat, Docs, and Meet, mostly) and VS Code. My shell of choice is Zsh, which I discovered when I tried Oh My Zsh. Once you give it a go, there is no turning back.

At home, my setup isn’t very different: Gmail, Firefox, Spotify, zsh, and VS Code are the software I use the most.

What’s your keyboard setup like? Do you use a custom layout or custom keycaps?

Once upon a time, I was a PhD student, and one year, around Christmas time, I suddenly developed carpal tunnel issues in my right hand. Typing on a keyboard was extremely painful, and using a mouse was out of the question. Quite annoying when your occupation is to write code and write papers all day long (and all night long as well). That’s when my interest for ergonomic keyboards started. In a few weeks, I got a TypeMatrix 2030 and a trackball, and learned to touch-type in Dvorak. I was very slow initially. Within a few weeks, the symptoms were gone, and I was able to type at full speed again.

A few months ago, my TypeMatrix keyboard broke down, and I started looking for a more sturdy alternative, still with an ortholinear layout, and preferably mechanical. That’s when I found out about the ErgoDox EZ, which had almost everything I wanted: mechanical keyboard, ortholinear arrangement of keys, split design, backlit keys, and above all, the freedom to program the keys whichever way I want. I was sold! The only thing it’s missing to reach perfection is a wireless version.

I feel like I have barely touched the surface with this keyboard. I’m still using the default keycaps, which are great. I only had to rearrange them in a Dvorak layout, and I was good to go. I took an existing Dvorak layout outline, and made minor adjustments to fix my needs. I haven’t yet made much use of the various layers, but that’s definitely on my to-do list. One of the things I’d love to do is to finally solve the issue of typing in several languages. French has strange letters like é, è, ê, à, and others; and German also has a bunch of funny ones, such as ö or ß. They are an absolute pain to type on an International English layout: you have to use dead keys or modifiers. It’s slow, and easy to get it wrong. I want a layer for French characters, and another one for German characters too. Oh, and currency symbols. $, £, and €, without contortions and impossible-to-remember key combinations. So many things to try. I also want to be more creative with the backlit keys. Currently it’s just plain white; some more colour would not hurt.

Lionel Montrieux's keyboard
Now: Dvorak layout; Soon: Layers for languages

What would be your dream setup?

I have two wishes for a dream setup: a completely wireless desktop setup, and a better keyboard on laptops.

I would love to get rid of all these wires—for the monitor, the microphone, the webcam, the keyboard—I dream of a day where all peripherals will be wireless, and have batteries that last for months on a single charge. No more unsightly cables that get tangled everywhere, limit movement, and get stuck in the Hoover. One can dream, right?

For the laptop keyboard, I’m not sure a mechanical keyboard will be feasible without making laptops much bulkier, but I would love an ortholinear layout. Maybe with a split design as well, if space allows.