Power of Unlearning

(2021-Jan-31) Working on DIY home projects could be fun by choosing the right tools: if can I handle paperhanging scissors to cut my wallpapers, or create an opening and trim my drywall using a drywall hammer and drywall saw, or find a pipe wrench with sufficient jaws’ grip to work on my plumbing.

Learning how to use those tools adds another level of excitement, if not, then I could picture myself as a very experienced handyman walking around with just a utility knife and a regular hammer. 

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Recently I read a convocation speech presented by Mona J. Gardener, professor of the Illinois Wesleyan University, in front of the year 1993 class “The Importance of Unlearning”, where professor Gardener approached a reinforced idea of the “knowledge explosion", with “so much to learn … so little time”, and then she outlines three main unlearning challenges: (1) to discover things you must unlearn in order to learn new lessons in the future, (2) efforts to unlearns stereotyping, and (3) how to unlearn, the beliefs that tempt me to be cynical. It’s a very good and structured read:https://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/teaching_excellence/15/

In the past, I’ve worked on pure SQL Server database projects where both the ETL and Reporting workloads were hidden in a myriad of stored procedures and their supporting tables and views. High attention was paid to an efficient database design to cover various data query scenarios.

These days, a stable database model works well along with other components to support a complex data analytical solution in a cloud. However, when I happened to adjust one of the data transformation routines in my current project and got fully immersed in that pure SQL code development, I had experienced mixed feelings. 

First, all things seemed to be very familiar: TSQL constructions, different data type transformations, and various workflows to handle specific logical steps within. On the other side, I questioned myself, could I be sufficiently equipped with very just familiar tools that I had worked in the past: SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) and VS Studio (VS), or could I unlearn the past and start using the Azure Data Studio (ADS) more.

There are far more experienced data professionals who have already embraced the challenge and fully engaged themselves in making the ADS their primary development environment, Azure Data Studio vs SSMS: Who’s the Winner?. This tool has been recently enriched with the SQL Database Projects extension, and very soon I will stop updating or reinstalling SSMS and VS Studio tools on my laptop, argh.., even if the ADS IntelliSense currently doesn't support temp tables.

The same thought, of unlearning old and learning new, came to me during a recent conversation of our technical team when I tried to defend a classical role of a Quality Assurance (QA) team, however other thoughts had been shared, which gave me an additional push to rethink the QA role in a data analytics project. I really need to see other QA frameworks by building quality into the product rather than checking it afterward, and trusting more in automating the regression testing of the product we build.

On a closing note, unlearning experience may not seem that frightening as it appears. Yes, I’ve worked with many SQL Server projects in the past, and yes, new tools and technologies require more effort and time to learn and explore. However, when you find yourself working with something technical from a non-distant past, it all will come very easily to you from your ‘unlearned’ memory, simply because you had learned it well in the first place and you still remember it!!!

I recently started reading “The Lord of the Rings” book to my youngest daughter. Before that, I didn’t even know that Frodo was 50 years old when he started his journey from the Shire. Who knows, how much more movie-based experience I will need to unlearn in the interest to see new things by the time we finish the whole series of the J. R. R. Tolkien books 😊


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