Michael J. Swart

July 12, 2012

Developing on the Right Side of the Brain

Filed under: SQLServerPedia Syndication — Tags: — Michael J. Swart @ 12:00 pm

Last week you voted for “Developing on the Right Side of the Brain” as the post you wanted to see most. Here we are. Enjoy.

When learning to draw, I took a big step forward when I worked through the exercises in a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I thought the premise was cool. She explains that we have to use our intuitive right side of the brain instead of the usual analytical left side in order to access untapped drawing skills.

But it’s pop-psychology. The premise probably makes neuro-scientists cringe (just like the following myth):

It’s possible that her whole book is like Dumbo’s feather. Something to hold onto that helps you believe you can draw. (And I can’t fault her for doing that. There are only two types of people: those who can draw, and those who just don’t believe they can yet.) But her book is more than just a placebo; her method works very well.

While going through her book again recently, I thought of some similarities between the world of drawing and art and the database world.

Fresh Points of View

One of the early drawing exercises the author has us complete is to copy a line drawing. But the drawing we’re to copy from is upside down. It’s counter intuitive but these upside-down drawings often turn out better than if the drawing was drawn normally.

The theory is that when drawing from a picture up-side down, it is less likely for students to use old drawing habits. So for example, instead of drawing a nose, the student will draw what they see. Probably because they have no experience drawing an upside down nose.

In the database world, I’d like to see new developers drop a few bad habits from the beginning. Two that come to mind:

  1. Tables are just Spreadsheets: These newfangled database tables seem almost exactly like the Excel spreadsheets that I’m more comfortable with. So if i’m storing my employee’s schedules in my database, it’s natural to define columns called Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday because that’s the way I want it displayed.
    One thing that might be a bit more subtle: It’s not too hard to convince people to define normalized tables. It’s a little harder to convince people not to pivot in the database either. In other words, don’t figure out how to write a query that returns columns Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Figure that out in the application.
  2. T-SQL is just Programming: Okay, so I need to process this data. It shouldn’t be too much harder than C#. Oh look, there’s an IF statement and WHILE statement. Now all I need to know is how to access each element of a set. Lets see what this CURSOR statement does…
    CURSORS have their place, but it’s not a particularly nice place. I’ve used them in the past but only in special circumstances. I see cursors written by others too and most of the time they’re not needed. Over 90% of the queries I write begin with INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE or SELECT

Practice Makes Perfect and Interest Makes Practice

For me the exercises in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain helped me improve rapidly. The speed I improved was surprising. From zero to mediocre didn’t take me a month. It took me a week. From mediocre to good didn’t take me a year, it took me maybe a month. This fed my interest. The interest led to more practice. More practice led to even better results. It was a beautiful cycle and everything a hobby or passion should be.

Drawing sketches led to pastel paintings, life drawing classes and to digital paintings (not necessarily in that order). And I’m still learning and have a long way to go. (For example, Toronto artist Rosemary Travale drew this picture of Captain Picard and wish it were me. I want to be able to draw like that.).

So practice makes perfect and the database field is no exception. Once the basics sink in, it makes the next things easier.  There’s always something new to learn. Hopefully the field is as interesting for you as it is to me. For me it makes the work a “chosen profession” instead of a job.

And You?

What’s your hobby? Piano? Chess? Frisbee Golf? Recreationally writing articles for mathematics journals?


  1. Cool post, especially since I was just tweeting the other day that I’d love to increase my drawing skills!

    I love to run and to cook. The only way to be a faster runner, or to run longer distances, is to do more running – much like drawing. Practice makes better. It’s much the same with cooking, too. Cooking a new food will often give me an idea for how to improve another recipe, or I’ll learn that no matter how I cook a food, I don’t like it.

    Constant practice and learning go a long way, professionally and personally!

    Comment by Jes Schultz Borland — July 12, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

  2. I know Jes, that tweet actually led to this post ;-). I had the title locked in from last week, but not the subject matter.

    And well done! The year of Jes continues!

    Comment by Michael J. Swart — July 12, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

  3. I actually doodle. As I’m contemplating a problem I often simply doodle. The cliche squares, triangles, 3-D cubes, and Greek letters. I admit the same thing happens in meetings. I know in school I’d be accused of not paying attention. I’d explain that wasn’t the case. Quite the opposite. If I’m not doodling then yes, I’m not paying any attention to you. 😉

    Comment by wnylibrarian — July 12, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

  4. Cool post.

    My hobby…? Martial Arts. :))

    Comment by Krzysztof — July 12, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

  5. […] Developing on the Right Side of the Brain – The community voted and Michael J. Swart (Blog|Twitter) delivered. […]

    Pingback by Something for the Weekend - SQL Server Links 13/07/12 — July 13, 2012 @ 7:22 am

  6. […] the Brain. My blog readers voted for Developing on the Right Side of the Brain to be my next post (published last week here) and I don’t have a well-thought-out idea for what the post should be about. The book should […]

    Pingback by T-SQL Tuesday #32 - A Day in the Life | Michael J. Swart — July 17, 2012 @ 8:02 am

  7. This is an awesome post, Michael.

    Comment by Don Kolenda — July 19, 2012 @ 10:48 pm

  8. I’ve often wanted to add some pictures to my blog posts but didn’t think I could get you to draw them for me. Great book recommendation. I’m going to give it a try.

    Comment by Dale Burnett — July 20, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

  9. Thanks Don!

    And thanks Dale, You’re probably right about drawing pictures for your blog 🙂 I think you’ll like the book. You should be able to find it in any good used book store.

    Comment by Michael J. Swart — July 21, 2012 @ 9:54 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress