There will always be more things to learn than you have time for. So the question is: which skills do you invest in and which do you skip? Like with any investment, it’s about weighing the costs and the benefits. While this is often a difficult question to answer, for SQL the balance is unusually compelling. Being able to explore a database with SQL is a powerful, fundamental skill that you can pick up quickly.
Quick to Master
SQL takes less time to master than other programming languages. With a few weeks of dedicated practice, it’s possible to be as competent in SQL as a professional software developer. You won’t be at the level of a database administrator or other SQL expert, but you’ll be able to write SQL as well as the average programmer.
In part, this is because SQL targets a narrow domain. SQL is focused on one task -- controlling a database -- while other programming languages are more general-purpose.
However, it’s also because SQL is declarative. In SQL code, you only describe the output that you want, not the procedure to create it. The database itself is doing most of the heavy lifting, automatically finding an efficient way to accomplish your task. To get results in other programming languages, you generally have to specify a step-by-step procedure yourself.
Rising Role of Data
Data is growing in importance across every industry. As a consequence, the ability to use a database is more important today than ever before. Over half of the jobs on Indeed that contain the word “data” (e.g. data analyst, data scientist) mention SQL in the job description. This is three times more often than Python, R, or any other programming language. If you want to work with data, SQL is the single biggest requirement.
However, it’s not just an expected skill for data scientists. If you are a decision maker at your company or aspire to be one, people will increasingly expect you to ground your ideas in data. If you really want to “know your numbers,” being able to query a database is a critical skill. Modern companies rely on their database as the system of record -- i.e. the final say on facts about the company’s operations. Databases are specifically designed to track thousands of complex data points, such as recording every transaction down to the level of product, customer, and time of day. If you just read reports, you are getting someone else’s summary of the facts as they stood when the report was written. Querying a database with SQL, you can directly see the facts as they stand right now.
A Durable Skill
Best practices in SQL are very stable over time, relative to other programming languages. The main principles for how databases are organized today -- known as the “normal forms” -- date back to papers written in the ‘70s. The SQL language itself was standardized by 1986, and has not changed significantly since that time. Although new features are added to the standard every few years, the portion that most programmers will ever use has been the same for decades.
While it is true that there are numerous dialects of SQL, the differences between them are very minimal. Each dialect will have a slightly different way of expressing the same set of concepts. As an example, to request only five results in Postgres you would use LIMIT 5 while in Microsoft’s dialect of SQL you would use TOP 5. Unless you are a database administrator, most job postings do not even bother to differentiate between dialects of SQL.
Learn SQL at Noble Desktop
If you want to take the leap and learn SQL, sign up for our 18-hour SQL Bootcamp class. The class will cover everything from basic database terminology to advanced querying techniques so that you are confident using SQL in your workplace or on your resume.
If you’re interested in diving deeper with data, this course is featured as part of the Data Science Certificate. The certificate includes an in-depth Python bootcamp for data science so that you can grow your data skillset and do more advanced analysis.