The people who use our boards.

Joel Christiansen

Software Engineer / Lawyer

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

My name is Joel Christiansen. I’m a web and database engineer and occasional trial lawyer. I live in Bellingham, Washington, with my partner Sarah and our two rescue dogs, Gus and Milo.

Currently, I’m doing operations engineering work for Legalpad.io. We enable innovative work across international borders.

Before that, I was an employment civil rights lawyer for about 12 years. I still help a small handful of clients and do some public interest volunteer work. I taught AMTA undergraduate mock trial teams at Reed College and Portland State University.

Outside of work, I unplug. I’m into outdoor family adventures. We live between the Pacific Ocean and the North Cascades, and the access is endless.

I enjoy lots of time in the garden and went through master gardener training in 2019. I like flowers, native plants, and vegetables.

Joel Christiansen's garden
Joel's garden looks primed for a bountiful harvest

I sometimes play music. I love long bike rides on empty country roads, like this one near Walla Walla, Washington.

Joel Christiansen's bike ride video

Last but not least, I’m a relatively new Minecraft fan. An old friend and I have been working on a survival realm that’s about to turn ten years old (in Minecraft years). I love the peaceful and creative vibes and C418’s music.

Joel Christiansen's Minecraft realm
A virtual place to grow things other than squash

What hardware do you use?

My primary computer is a 2020 MacBook Air M1 with 16GB RAM. I use it with an external 27” Dell monitor (SE2719H) that needs an upgrade.

Joel Christiansen's setup
Even the tech setup has something green and growing

My keyboard is an ErgoDox EZ. More on that below.

My favorite chair is the Capisco chair by HÅG. It’s unusually shaped to accommodate varied sitting positions.

I wear an Apple Watch for notification haptics when I’m working. When I’m not actively working, I take it off and wear a Casio A158WA-1DF.

I prefer corded silent mice. My current one is a cheap Rapoo brand 3-Button wired USB optical noiseless Mouse. I also keep an Apple optical mouse on my desk in case I want to unplug and work from the patio, park, etc. I’m all ears if anyone reading this strongly recommends a mouse!

I use a Logitech C920S HD Pro webcam for video calls. I’ve really been digging pair programming via tuple.app sans camera. I find it more fun to work on things together versus the “talking heads” video calls that we all burned out on during the pandemic.

I love my Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones and switch between those and an old pair of Airpods. Mostly though, I’m listening to public radio or downtempo music on room speakers when I work.

My workspace usually has a Raspberry Pi plugged in somewhere. If you’re not familiar with the Pi, it’s a ~$40 Linux-based computer that’s made for learning. I like to use it to test different environments, networking, and benchmarking to make sure I build accessible stuff. I wrote a blog post showing how to build a Pi from scratch, including a parts list.

Joel Christiansen's Raspberry Pi
A slice of homemade Raspberry Pi

Finally, my desk is always well-stocked with art cards and my favorite pens. I use the cards for handwritten notes and doodles. I like to lay them out in patterns on my floor and stack and shuffle them like playing cards. I usually shred my notes after implementing them somewhere. Or sometimes I digitize them. I use Japanese ballpoint gel ink pens (black and color) and Staedler fineliners.

And what software?

I use open source software as much as possible.

My default desktop is terminal + text editor + browser with dev tools open. I switch between Vim and Atom (in Vim mode) for my text editor, depending on the task. I use a lot of bash/zsh aliases.

Joel Christiansen's screen
Where the usual workday begins

I use Moom for window management and highly recommend it. CloudApp is great for image and video captures (I mapped the shortcuts to ErgoDox EZ’s meh key). I also use TextExpander for many repetitive typing tasks. Jam is a great “comments for the DOM” tool.

I enjoy Google Docs & Sheets and use them often. Collaborating via comments in shared docs is very fun for me.

My primary design tool—besides raw CSS—is Sketch. I like Figma too. I’ve also been learning a pixel art program called Aseprite, which I’d describe as “pixel art meets early 2000s Flash.” Fun stuff.

I use Clarity.so for notes, second brain, and task management.

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

I use a stock black ErgoDox EZ with lettered keycaps and Cherry MX brown switches. No backlights or keyboard lights.

Joel Christiansen's keyboard
Just the keyboard basics

I bought the board because of the split design, important keys on the thumbs, and the software that makes customizations easy. Before the ErgoDox EZ, I noticed myself hunching and doing lots of hand contortions for shortcuts. I hadn’t experienced any injuries or pain, but it wasn’t going to age well.

The board itself has dramatically improved my experience at the computer. A fundamental improvement. I have better posture and use the mouse far less. I’m faster with everything I do. Typing is more fun because the board is so physically pleasant to type on.

I use a slightly modified version of the layout that Richie Bonilla generously shared with me when I first got my board.

On the alphas layer (Layer 0), the [Ctrl + Shift + Tab] and [Ctrl + Tab] keys allow me to navigate between tabs really fast. Otherwise, it’s a pretty stock QWERTY layout with audio controls in the middle.

The punctuation layer (Layer 1) took some getting used to. But code punctuations now require almost no wrist movement. A significant improvement from the Shift/Option/Command gymnastics I was doing pre-ErgoDox.

The tab nav (Layer 3) and arrows (Layer 4) get a lot of use. In the browser, Layer 3 navigates between tabs, the address bar, and the browser window. In Vim, Layer 3 also triggers things like fuzzy find and split management, which I configure with vimrc on a project basis. Layer 4 brings Vim-like navigation (H, J, K, and L arrows) into word processing, which has been really useful.

Finally, I use a utilitarian layout for Minecraft.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup would be a world with less hustling and more creative projects with friends.

Gear-wise, I’m pretty happy with my setup as-is. I’d love to find a dream mouse. Eventually I’ll get a Moonlander keyboard for the low profile, fun lights, and carrying case (my keyboard travels with me). And I need a better display. I’m not very active about acquiring gear though, so I’m lazily waiting for emphatic and repeated recommendations to fall into my lap. ;)

I’ve been really intrigued by Scott K. Roberts’ Nomadic Research Labs projects. The boat setups are especially cool.

Thanks to Richie Bonilla, Ryan Williams, Steven Ovadia, Matthew Vere, Linda Chavers and Compound Writing for reviewing an initial draft of my answers and prompting me to add more detail.

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