Eight Essential Mac Commands Every Beginning Programmer Should Know

James Bond
6 min readSep 17, 2020

In the few short weeks I’ve been at Flatiron School, if I’ve learned one singular thing about software engineering and development it’s that organization is imperative.

It’s not in my nature to think at such a functional level. I’m that person that has their head in the clouds and sees things on a grander scale, but can never find their keys or wallet. To say the learning curve has been steep is an…understatement. However that’s not to say it hasn’t happened!
In a few weeks I’ve become pretty adept at setting myself a schedule (WILD) and keeping to it(EVEN WILDER!!) and even found some useful Mac tools that allow me to breeze through my computer without having to constantly hunt for whatever project or file I’m working on. With all of that said, here’s some essential Mac keyboard shortcuts every Mac user should know to keep their focus on their code and less focus on “where did I put that?”

For my Windows friends, feel free to get some coffee, take a break, etc. the rest of this article isn’t for you.

1.) Spotlight

⌘ + spacebar

This feature is an incredibly powerful tool that every Mac user should use. Whether you need to search for a specific file or project, open an app, or even look up the weather in your area, the Spotlight is your bread-and-butter for searching on your engine. This is only a fraction of its capabilities and I highly encourage everyone to play around with it. I find myself using Spotlight a lot just to open whatever apps I need and get them up and running, rather than clicking around too much. It shaves micro-seconds, but it all adds up!

2.) App Switcher

⌘ + tab

Once I get my apps up and running via Spotlight, I’ve become pretty good at isolating my separate apps in their own respective desktops. But I quickly realized that as great as it is to have 4 or 5 apps running in 5 separate places, I was getting lost trying to remember the order of my apps; VSCode was running two projects in Desktop 3 but then wait, where did I leave Google Chrome? Was it Desktop 1 or Desktop 4?

With the App Switcher, you can open whichever app you want next and it will automatically shift that to your forefront without you having to concern yourself with which desktop it was left on.

3.) Quit App

⌘ + Q(hold)

With so many apps running on my computer these days, CPU Usage is a big concern. It always makes me nervous when my computer sounds like it’s about to launch into space when I’m only working on one thing, and it’s typically because I have apps running in the background. Command + Q will completely exit whatever app you’re in without having to quit it down in the dock. This is a powerful exit tool, so be sure to save your work before you use it!

Protip: If you are in your App Switcher, you can toggle through your apps with the arrow keys, and while holding command, press Q on a highlighted app and it will quit it from there as well.

4.) Dock Toggle

⌘ + ⌥ + D

I am a modest 13 inch MacBook Pro user because I know that it’s not the size that’s important, but how you use it. With that said, that means my screen space is at a premium. Sometimes I just don’t need my Dock showing. command + option + D let’s you toggle the Dock in and out of your view at your leisure!

5.) Screenshot

⌘ + shift + 3
⌘ + shift + 4
⌘ + shift + 5

Screenshot is a super useful tool, I’ve used it plenty of times as a means of reference. But sometimes I don’t want to screenshot the whole screen (command + shift + 3) because it’s no ones business whether or not I have charged my laptop recently. command + shift + 4 allows me to select exactly what I want to screen shot by turning my mouse into a selector tool first. And if you need even more versatility, command + shift + 5 will let you do delayed 5s or 10s screenshots, screen record, and ~more~

6.) Browser tab cycler

⌘ + ⌥ + (← or →) key

I know for a certifiable fact I’m not the only one who has 10,000 tabs open in Chrome right now. And if you’re like me, it’s really obnoxious clicking through all of them. Well, you don’t have to! Just cycle through your open tabs and find the one playing music even faster now.

7.) App Hider

⌘ + H 
⌘ + ⌥ + H

Let’s say you’re working on a top secret project and you need to protect the privacy of your super awesome code, or maybe you were just watching Youtube videos and you really don’t need your supervisor to know how obsessed you are with watching mukbang at work, command + H will let you hide whatever open app you’re in without closing the windows out. When you’re ready to pull it back up just highlight the app in App Switcher or click on it in your Dock and it’ll pop right back up as if you never left. If you get easily distracted and really don’t like looking at the other apps running in the background of your open desktop, command + option + H will let you hide background apps, letting you focus on the task at hand.

8.) Forward delete for Mac

fn + delete

For you new Mac users who are coming over from Windows, welcome, there’s normally cucumber water and macarons at the Mac-Only snack bar, but c’est la covid. With that said, many of you were probably confused by the fact that Mac’s delet key doesn’t delete the same way Windows does. It’s just a backspace key. Does that mean you can only delete left? No! If you still want to delete right, you can! But Mac decided why make an extra key for that and get your keyboard all cluttered? Instead used function + delete and you can delete right too. You’re welcome.

There’s all kinds of cool tricks that Mac has to help make coding and programming easier, but these are the ones I find myself relying on the most frequently. With so much happening right now, I hope this makes your life just a little bit easier, if only marginally. Drink some water, be kind to yourself, and keep working hard!