The other day, my coworkers and I stumbled upon an online typing test that will rate how many words and characters per minute you can type. Taking it just now, I clocked in at about 108 words per minute. It reminded me of just how far my typing skills have come — and how I was able to use such skill to break down the foundations of a government bureaucracy.
When I was a child, my father worked for the IBM Corporation. This exposed me to computers at a very early age, and in the early 80’s my family was one of the first in the nation to acquire an IBM PC. The “beige box” of lore, it was equipped with a single-sided 360kb 5.25″ floppy drive, a cutting-edge 7.14MHz CPU, and one whole megabyte of RAM. Ahh, those were the days.
Since the IBM PC was so new, getting our hands on software was quite the challenge. We began with two titles: Colossal Cave, which I quickly solved, and Typing Tutor, which took quite a bit more time to master. The latter was a program that taught typing by flashing countless paragraphs, which one had to duplicate with as much precision as possible. I spent alot of time honing my skills, eventually getting good enough to type without having to look at the keyboard. Although I never mastered the style of using all ten of my fingers — to this day I continue to type without using my pinky fingers — that didn’t prevent me from developing some amazing speed.
After many years had passed, I moved to Austin in the summer of 2000 with hopes of jumping onto the “dot-com” bandwagon. Conveinently enough, I relocated to central Texas at the exact same time said bandwagon’s bubble burst.
So imagine my situation: I was in a new city with a high cost of living, the tech capital of the South, with a few dollars and an art degree to my name. I was pragmatic enough to know that any job that could put food on the table (and pay the rent) was a job worth having, so I swallowed my pride and told myself that even digging ditches was preferable to being homeless.
My jobhunt eventually led me to apply at the University of Texas – Austin. Being a state university, there were all sorts of jobs to be had there. Since my post-graduate resume was still fairly blank, the only position I qualified for was a $10/hour job moving around file cabinets in the Department of Accounting.
Since my potential employer would be the State of Texas, the law required all applicants to take a typing test, even if the job had nothing to do with computers or typewriters. My test was to be administered by the middle-aged woman who took my application. She led me to a small room with four large beige computers that were each crowned by humming monochrome monitors. Can you say “state surplus”?
I sat at the first computer, and the lady told me to follow the instructions on the screen then return to her office when finished. I was also told that my score would be automatically transmitted to her computer upon completion. She asked if I understood. I nodded yes and was left alone in the room to take the test.
The test involved copying a paragraph the text as fast as possible with as few of errors I could muster, just like the Typing Tutor program I grew up with. I finished with my typcial speed at the time: 80 words per minute. I left the room and returned to meet with the woman who took my application. When she fetched my score, she was convinced that I had cheated. “Noone could possibly type that fast without cheating,” she said. I protested against the accusation. “How does once cheat on a typing test, anyway?,” I said.
Although the same state regulations that required me take the test also said that it could only be taken once a day, the rules were bent so that I could take it again — this time with the woman watching me the entire time to ensure that nothing inappropriate occurred.
So I returned to the tiny room, sat at a different computer, and retook the typing test. The whole time, I could feel the warm breath of the test administrator as she leered over my shoulders to get a good look at my dancing fingers. The pressure was intense, and because of it I failed to score as fast a time as before. This time around, I ended up with only 70 words per minute.
After witnessing my skill in person, the lady said she was sorry. I accepted the apology — and the job. Moving file cabinets, a position that had nothing to do with typing in the first place.
Or so I thought.
(To be continued)
Photo credit: Rahgeo