How fast can you type? Probably pretty fast, if you're reading this site. If you're like me, 294 words per minute*. Honest! I just timed myself!
*294WPM is based on repeatedly typing the word "a" for a minute straight. I had 100% accuracy with the "a"s, but sometimes hit the spacebar twice by accident.

Not only can I type pretty fast, but most of the time I'm not even looking at the keybiurd or the screem! Same goes for James G., who had to pass a typing exam (or take a touch-typing class) during his first semester of college. As a geek, he wasn't worried. With all the typing that comes with being a programming major — hell, all the typing that comes with being a student, he had nothing to fear. And with his confidence he'd never even considered signing up for the touch-typing class (plus he'd already taken a touch-typing class way back in junior high). Wanting to get the it out of the way, he signed up for the first available time to take the test.

With a confident stride James walked into the computer lab. A bored lab assistant lead him to a computer and gave him the full instructions he needed to take the test. "Do whatever it says on the screen. Oh, here," he said, handing James a sheet of paper.

James was to retype several paragraphs from the sheet of paper that the lethargic lab assistant gave him. Reading through the sheet, James wasn't sure of one thing. "So should I end each line like it is on the paper? Is this word-wrapped, or is each line terminated by a carriage return?"

It was apparently the first time the phrase "carriage return" had graced the assistant's ears, so after a moment of considering the question, he gave an apathetic, "whatever, just like it is on the paper."

James realized that he didn't phrase the question well, so he asked again. "Do I hit enter after each line?"

"No, just type it," replied the stolid lab assistant dismissively.

The test instructions said that he had to achieve a minimum of twenty words per minute. Twenty? James could type twenty words per minute with his elbows. Touch-typing. And still, he had a safety net — the test could be failed twice without penalty, only the third failure would count against him. After briefly considering actually taking the test using only his elbows, he decided against it and began typing.

After a few seconds, a message popped up that he'd made too many errors and had to start over. Comparing his paper to the onscreen text, he didn't see any errors. Ah well, whatever, he thought as he clicked a button to restart the test.

Too many errors. Again. Starting over he was much more deliberate, intentionally slowing down to make sure each letter was perfect. He was certainly capable of 20WPM and not afraid that he could get out of having to take the typing class, but he didn't want to prolong this and have to deal with it later.

And he failed a third time. And this time he was mad. Every letter was right, all of the capitalization was correct, he was positive he hadn't made any mistakes.

"Excuse me," James called to the indifferent assistant. "Is there a way to start the exam over? I think there's a problem with it."

The assistant sighed and responded impassively "no, you only get to take it once. You'll have to sign up for the touch-typing class." After a brief staredown, the assistant sighed again and said "fine, follow me."

The assistant grabbed a printout of James's test results and lead him to the department chair's office. "Wait here," he said, going into the office.

James couldn't make out what the assistant said to the department chair, but once he finished talking he heard her yell "another one? Fine, bring him in."

"So, James," she began. "What can I do for you?"

"Well, I took the typing test, and I think there's a problem with it." As a programming major, he was excited about the possibility of fixing a bug in one of the school's systems. Even though he was pretty sure this was a bug with just the documentation, he'd still like the experience of fixing it. "As a programming major, I'd like to look into-"

"You made too many errors; you'll just have to take the typing class."

"Look, I'd like to just compare the printouts with you," James said.

Comparing the test with James's work, they both read exactly the same for the few sentences James had completed.

The opportunities present for today's college graduates are numerous and 
vast.  Those who choose to perform excellently will achieve the recognition 
that secures promotions.  Commitment to quality leads to victory above all 
obstacles.  The challenges faced by employers, insitutions, and organizations 
require college graduates to work consistently in the pursuit of greatness.

Motivational (if generic) words that had left James feeling anything but motivated. "See, these are the same. I think that the instructions are wrong — I didn't press the enter key after each line because I was instructed not to. How exactly are the errors counted?"

"Well," the department chair began, beginning to sound as lifeless as the lab assistant, "the enter key is irrelevant. Your errors are in the sections that you didn't type."

Through gritted teeth, James asked "how exactly did these count against me when I never even got to type them because it stopped me when I had too many errors?"

At this point, the lab assistant told James to stop, but he'd only begun his fight. He'd take it to the dean, the supreme court, or to the Flying Spaghetti Monster if he'd be forced to sit through a typing class he didn't need. Before he could get another word out, the department chair gave an exasperated "fine, you can take the test again."

His hunch about the line breaks, contrary to the test's instructions, the assistant's instructions, and the department head's instructions, was correct. He passed on his first try.

When he completed his test, he turned to the lab assistant and said "you know, all they have to do is change the instructions."

"Oh yeah, you are supposed to hit enter. It's funny, almost everybody has failed the typing exam!"

As for the developers that had built the test, apparently they'd chosen to perform excellently and achieved the recognition that secures promotions — since the test is still the same as far as James knows.

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