ErgoDox EZ Users

Zoë Smith

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

I’m Zoë and I write software for Apple platforms, currently as a fully remote iOS engineer for startups in the video sharing space.

The job is pretty sedentary and brain-heavy, so anything that gets me moving works for downtime. In normal years, I’ve taken advantage of remote work to live and explore different cities with my husband. For the moment though, I’m lifting a ton of weights and getting back into yoga at home, and hiking the lesser-used trails. I do the cooking, and an hour spent preparing a good meal is a calm point in the day. I can’t control much out there, but I can make you a good bucatini all’amatriciana.

Room with a view
Room with a view: Zoë's setup

What hardware do you use?

My work setup is up in the bedroom and comes with a vital accessory: the door. Noise-cancelling headphones are fine, but when your home co-worker is an expressive Italian, a closed door is true luxury! Around the desk, the paintings are by Dan Shaw-Town (left) and Ulrich Wulff. And the wooded view is pretty tranquil, apart from the terrifyingly enormous crows that come sit on the windowsill.

My current work machine is an iMac 27” 2017 with a Magic Trackpad, and a Dell monitor bought for an old laptop that didn’t support Retina externals. Rotated to portrait it’s still brilliant to throw up text resources such as documentation or Stack Overflow.

I’ve got a collection of iOS devices in front of me—nothing replaces testing an app on different form factors or OS versions. I just got these individual stands for them to keep everything organized.

phones on individual stands
Individual stands hold different iOS devices for testing

To understand anything, I have to write it by hand. A couple minutes of sketching can save me hours of coding. These dotted Moleskine journals are roomy, and thin enough to fold back on themselves. My sweet spot for vaguely legible handwriting is a 0.7mm gel pen. I’ve just discovered the Zebra Sarasa which is quick drying—perfect for smudgy lefties like me—and these super-fun coloured erasable Pilot FriXion Ball Clicker pens. There’s always a silk scrunchie around. When the code gets serious, the hair goes into a ponytail—one without unnecessary breakage, though.

An ergonomic seat
Visual art and a posture-conscious chair

I’ve had issues with wrists, shoulders, and back in the past, so a good ergonomic setup is really important. For me, there are two crucial elements: a split keyboard, and a good sitting (or standing) position. I’ve used the original Varier balans kneeling rocker for years. It just does not allow slumping, because the spine has to support itself. Sounds tiring, but actually the effect is to be less stiff at the end of the day. Of course it’ll never be as comfy as a standard chair over a few hours, but honestly I consider that a feature, not a bug. Breaks are important!

A Grovemade wool felt mat to cover the desk. The one piece of advice I can give confidently in these uncertain times is this: Never, ever buy a reflective desk. It shows every speck of dust, crumb (ahem), and tiny scratch. I have to use a microfibre cloth to get it close to presentable, and it drives me slightly nuts. The Vitruvi diffuser is an embarrassingly goopy callout, but it does set a working mood, like music. I like a mix of grapefruit, eucalyptus, and geranium oils.

Coffee’s essential equipment, right? I drink a couple of short cappuccini in the morning, made with Breville’s the Infuser (makes consistent shots and great microfoam without being finicky, highly recommended) and Pilot Coffee’s Heritage beans. I prefer a chunky, traditional cup, like the 5.5oz tulip ACFs or Inkers.

coffee and other setup essentials
Essentials at hand: Split keyboard, big trackpad, journal, and coffee

And what software?

OmniFocus and 1Password are my ride-or-dies—everything would quickly grind to a halt without them—and Alfred and Moom are automatic at this point.

Nothing crazy for work: Xcode, of course, where I’m (somewhat controversially?) enjoying the JetBrains Mono programming ligatures. To compete with the sunlight behind the monitor, I use light themes like Humane, Quiet Light, or Flat.

I originally planned to use Tower only before easing myself into git rebasing on the command line, but now I think, why bother? Tower is brilliant. Kaleidoscope for GUI diffing is by far the best option, and seems to have been rescued from abandonware with a recent update. I use iTerm2, Atom for general-purpose text editing, SnippetsLab to save bits and pieces of code, Pinboard for links, nvALT for plain text notes, Bear and Marked for structured writing, Sip for colours.

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

I have a white ErgoDox EZ Shine with Cherry MX Clear switches, which I’d describe as quietly satisfying. I definitely go for weightier clunks over lighter clacks.

This is my first modifiable keyboard so I’m well aware that I’m still in the power-mad, change-all-the-things phase of custom layout design (as you can tell by the stickers!). I’m trying to optimize for Xcode shortcuts built into muscle memory over years, parentheses and code navigation, and so far I’m leaning heavily on dual-function keys. Being able to browse ErgoDox layouts online is amazingly helpful in seeing how smarter folks have solved similar problems, as is the new live training.

pops of color against a serene background
Vivid pens and keyboard stickers

What would be your dream setup?

Honestly it’s fantastic as is, but if we’re dreaming…I’d love some sort of retractable whiteboards that I could pull down from the ceiling when needed and go to town on. And a massive sit-to-stand desk that has zero wobble, looks like a piece of design and moves smoothly with the touch of a finger…And I’d really really like a 32” bezel-less iMac Pro with two matching Apple-made panels on either side…