The people who use our boards.
The people who use our boards.
Luke ParrQA Team Lead
Who are you, and what do you do? What do you like to do outside of work?
Hey there, I’m Luke. 👋
I’m a New Hampshire–based, bootcamp-made software engineer working as a QA Team Lead at QA Wolf. Until the start of 2022, I worked at a local nonprofit implementing and managing tech solutions for week-to-week events while attending BloomTech’s Full-Stack WebDev course part time at night. On top of that I’ve got two kids, 4yo and 2yo, who take up most of my time outside work; only since finishing my WebDev course and joining QA Wolf have I started to rediscover what this thing called “free time” is.
Right now that looks like enjoying some good books and video games again for the first time in two years, but also getting back to working on personal projects like migrating away from Google Photos or converting my collection of DVDs & Blu-rays for my Plex library. In general, I love to spend my time at the edge of my knowledge. I’ll often spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to get the exact solution I want for something. Sometimes it works, other times it goes nowhere, but I always learn something. I live off that feeling of getting exactly what I wanted; for a moment everything is right in the world.
Eventually I plan to get some regular hobbies back in my life. I used to play guitar a lot—casually, but regularly with other musicians—and I’d like to find a musical outlet again. I’d love to get back into knife-throwing, start biking regularly, or build my dream keyboard. There are so many things I could do that I have to remind myself what’s most important. Right now, it’s spending a lot of time giving my kids a sense of curiosity and wonder while they’re young; I really believe that’s the best thing I can give them at this stage.
What hardware do you use?
My daily driver is an M1 MacBook Air, which has been nice after using a 2012 MacBook Pro for almost nine years (that thing was still going strong!). I use a Dell USB-C docking station for my monitors, keyboard, trackball, webcam, and passthrough power all with one cable to my MacBook. My absolute number one quality-of-life hack is magnetic adapters; totally underrated.
I use the ubiquitous and great Jarvis standing desk, though this version is raised & lowered by manual crank. The nonprofit I worked for a few years ago was paying, so I was trying to be responsible and save a few bucks, but I’m kicking myself for it now. The friction of adjusting it is just enough to keep me sitting or standing for longer than I would like to.
I wear my AirPods Max all day, every day while I’m working. I’ve got two little kids, so it really helps drown out the screaming. 😅 There are plenty of cheaper headsets with noise-cancelling that are just as good but—being totally in on the Apple ecosystem—these are worth it. I 3D-printed a stand with a slot for a magnetic cable so they’re always charged up & ready. This is one of my favorite pieces of gear just because no matter where I am I can put them on, play my collection of lo-fi beats, & get in the zone; no distractions.
Occasionally I’ll use my Meta Quest (v1) to work in VR, especially when working while traveling. Immersed lets me create multiple virtual monitors so I can replicate my home setup and be just as productive (this is aided by my minimal hand movement setup I go into below). I also 3D-printed wall mounts for the headset & controllers.
I have a 2013 iMac in my office closet that acts as my Plex server with a connected Drobo array as mass storage for my media library, PhotoPrism backups, files, old film projects, etc. I would love to upgrade that to a Synology NAS eventually and ditch Google Drive.
And what software?
I have to start with Raycast. It’s a Spotlight replacement/launcher that also handles clipboard history, text/code snippets, scripts, window management, quick links, a growing store of extensions… and everything can have custom hotkeys. 🙌 This lets me consolidate multiple distinct apps into just one and, though I’m barely scratching the surface of what it can do, I couldn’t live without it.
HEY fixes almost everything I hated about email. I rarely use email for work now, but dealing with all the personal email I get because I have to for one reason or another is a breeze. I love that notifications are off by default and you turn them on per sender or domain.
1Password helps me stay sane in our password-ridden world. Password managers are kind of obvious for a lot of techy people, but at my last non-tech job, I was the weird one for using it. Meanwhile everyone else was using & reusing the same passwords over and over and STILL forgetting them… sure… I’m the weird one. 🙄
Quicker and in no particular order, I use Rocket for lightning-fast emojis, Vanilla to clean up the menu bar, CleanShot for screen caps, Hour for keeping track of time zones, Things for to-dos, Notion for note-keeping + Super for a quick and easy personal website, Karabiner for Colemak layout on the MacBook keyboard, & Balance Lock for a weird bug where AirPods sometimes shift to the left or right.
Also, this year I experienced for the first time what you can build into Slack. We currently have a bunch of disconnected internal tools at work, and custom Slack apps are helping us bring them all together. 🤝
What’s your keyboard setup like? Do you use a custom layout or custom keycaps?
Okay, here’s the good stuff!!
At my first office job I realized I’d probably be using keyboards for the rest of my life, so I should put some real thought into it. I discovered Colemak and learned it over the course of a few months, thanks to the amazing Tarmak. I had never learned to touch type on QWERTY, so switching layouts was actually the easiest way to fix that. I can still use QWERTY when the need arises, but I’ve been using Colemak exclusively for almost 10 years now. I’m thinking of moving to the DH mod. It makes sense to me, and I like to do things just because they make sense, even if I don’t have a problem to fix.
I’d been keyboard-curious for a long time, but finally dove in to the wonderful world of mechanical keyboards in 2020 and ended up getting the Planck EZ. I love minimalist systems that have just what you need to get the job done and not much more. The Planck made me realize that I had been leaving 20% of my typing power on the table by not thinking about the thumbs (I could easily argue it’s more than 20%). With layers, everything started to make sense: “Why have a number row that I can barely reach? Why have another row above that?? Why should I ever need to move my hands around my keyboard and risk getting lost?” Things started to click into place.
At the start of this year, to commemorate my first job in tech, I got a Moonlander for my home office. The Planck was perfect for hybrid work at my last job, but now I’m home full time, so the Moonlander stays on my desk and the Planck comes with me for travel or if I’m working elsewhere in the house (it sits nicely on top of my MacBook keyboard, thanks to Karabiner). I keep the layouts in sync and I removed most of the extra Moonlander keys that the Planck doesn’t have so I can always switch between them and feel right at home (thanks, ZipKit!).
I’ve incorporated a bunch of ideas I’ve seen around the ZSA community. Ones I’m particularly proud of are home row modifiers, the Colemak Backspace, Shift and Space as my left & right thumb home keys, Escape & Return on the bottom outside corners (this lets me drop my palm to hit them rather than awkwardly reach with my pinkies), and holding Space = Hyper so I can Hyper + S for Slack, Hyper + F for Firefox, etc.
My Planck came with printed keycaps, and when I got the Moonlander I thought I’d try sculpted. I hated them and almost immediately ordered another full set of printed. That said, I’m glad I have the sculpted set so I can do weird things like flip some R4 & R1 keys upside down for more comfortable thumb keys and easier-to-reach palm keys. I love that I have this small collection of matching keycaps and I always have what I need to make small adjustments. I’d love an amazing-looking themed set or something, but the ZSA keys are really doing it for me right now.
I got both my keyboards with MX Browns, which I lubed and really liked. When I started wearing headphones while working I realized whenever I took them off how loud the keys were and started wishing I had something quieter (my wife also complained about how loud they were). I did some searching for silent tactiles and landed on Gazzew Boba U4s, which I really like. Because they have no pre-travel, they really feel tactile; the Browns feel almost linear by comparison now.
My weirdest addition to all this came when I started thinking about how I might set things up so I never have to move my hands off my Moonlander; that was partially motivated by wanting to work in VR, where I can’t see my hands at all. I’ve used a Logitech M570 Trackball for years, but all of a sudden I didn’t like that I had to move my right hand between the two. Then I discovered the Ploopy Nano Trackball. No buttons. Just a ball. I removed the right thumb cluster from my Moonlander, and the Nano fit perfectly in its place. I added two extra keys to the right half’s inner column as my mouse buttons. I 3D-printed a custom shell for the Nano to drop the ball a little lower. Dream. Setup. Achieved… almost.
This solution has its quirks, the big one being scrolling. I ended up flashing firmware to the Nano that would send scroll events instead of mouse events when NumLock is on, and I use setLEDs to toggle NumLock when a Raycast hotkey is triggered by my upper inner-column key… it’s convoluted, but it works! I wish I could hold the key for scrolling and go back to the mouse when released, but I guess that would be asking too much. I occasionally get some wrist strain that I’m still trying to work out—I think the size of the trackball makes it still a bit too high compared to the keyboard. Using a wrist wrest has helped with that, but I’m still working out the bugs. Overall, I love this setup.
What would be your dream setup?
For now, I think my current setup is about 90% of the way there. My dream setup would be an integrated version of what I have where everything is in the perfect place. I would love for the trackball & keyboard to be integrated and the trackball closer to my thumb’s home position. Would also love a rotary encoder, or one of the DIY trackballs I’ve seen with a vertical and horizontal sensors so you can program a separate behavior when rotating the ball clockwise/counterclockwise. Optional wireless connection at least on the Planck would be super cool so I could always use it without having to worry about a cord. I could change my mind about all that tomorrow, but that’s where my head’s been at so far this year.
I’m super excited for VR/AR headsets to improve in the next couple years, I love that if I need to I can mimic my home setup anywhere with just my laptop, Planck, & Quest. The biggest downside to working in VR for me is the lack of awareness of what’s going on around you. I’m looking forward to really great color passthrough environments where I can hang virtual monitors in the air and get to work. We’re 80% there already, just looking for that last 20%.
Otherwise, I love this setup and I love that ZSA enabled me to get into MKs much earlier than I would have otherwise. I would definitely like to build my own board very soon, but that wasn’t a blocker to me getting started and making huge improvements to my productivity.