The mechanical keyboard rabbit hole goes deep. But don't worry, there have been people digging for a long time, so you're not alone! As you customize your board more and get to know your preferences, there's ways to go beyond the usual defaults and layouts out there, and plenty of people to talk to about them, too.
Program your keyboard to fit you!
If you've ever been interested in trying out a Dvorak keyboard layout, or typing in a chorded way like stenographers do, mechanical keyboards are the perfect place to start. You can change around your layout and customize which keys matter most to you by flashing some firmware and typing away!
Hundreds of keyboard PCBs automatically work with VIA, which is a software that flashes different layouts onto your keyboard with an easy-to-use interface. You could, say, swap out your Caps Lock key with Escape in just a few simple clicks.
If you want to get even more granular and customizable, you can dive into the QMK firmware which is open source, and supports everything from standard layouts to split keyboards, stenography, "tap dance" style keys (which let your keys do different things depending on how often you hit them), one-handed typing, typing speed calculation, and even thermal printer support! Your keyboard can be even more than a keyboard if you want it to be, and QMK is so powerful once you get the hang of it. For myself, I don’t do things that are particularly fancy often, but I love enabling media keys like volume controls and muting in every board I build!
Flashing firmware is easier than it sounds, but it’s a topic outside of the scope of this course. Know though that you can’t ruin/brick/mess up your keyboard with the firmware you make. Every keyboard PCB has a reset button, so if you mess it up, you can always refresh it from the beginning! Whether you decide to go custom or stick with the built-in abilities that your keyboard has, it’s fun to learn about these possibilities to decide for yourself if it’s right for you.
The Key by Stack Overflow
Speaking of programming keyboards, you may or may not recognize this little macropad here. I originally designed it as an April Fool's Day joke in 2021 (the joke being that the only thing you need to be a "real developer" is to be able to copy and paste from Stack Overflow), and it quickly grew to be a popular little programmable macropad that people were programming to their heart's content. These three little keys are QMK compatible, so people have made it work as media keys, macros for running a build or pushing a deploy, and even just a little emoji keyboard!
There's a bunch of fun little macropads out there that you can program to your exact liking, if you're not ready to jump into a full keyboard, yet (or you want to add functionality to what you already have).
The mechanical keyboards subreddit, r/MechanicalKeyboards (or lovingly referred to as r/mk) is your friend for learning more about keyboards and seeing what other people have bought and built. There's also a reselling subreddit, r/mechmarket (lovingly referred to as r/mm) that will be useful for you as well. If you don't want to use Reddit and go the old-school forum route, geekhack is super active with literally millions of posts about all things keyboards.
Also, check in all of these places for a meetup near you! Keyboard meetups are a blast, where you can check out what other people have built in person, try out boards you might normally only see online, and even trade and buy parts. If there isn't a local option, chances are you can find a Discord group or forum for your region.
We made it!
It has been an absolute blast being in your inbox here and telling you all there is to know about mechanical keyboards. I hope I've answered your questions, and that you're as excited as I am to get your hands on one! Good luck buying, building, creating, and exploring this very fun community. Whether you get just one or build a dozen, this is a hobby that'll last, and I'm honored to be a part of your learning journey.