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Learn SQL

A Comprehensive Guide to Start Learning SQL

Short for Structured Query Language, SQL is a programming language commonly used for organizing and managing relational database systems. Data professionals use SQL to group large amounts of data into databases and retrieve it for various functions.

SQL, or Structured Query Language, allows people to access and manipulate relational databases. The American National Standards Institute considers SQL the standard language for communicating with relational database management systems. If you’ve always wanted to learn SQL but aren’t sure how to get started, this guide is for you. Here, you’ll learn more about the various options for studying SQL, the free resources available to help with your education, and the types of careers that commonly use SQL.

What is SQL?

SQL, or Structured Query Language, is a standard language used to communicate with relational databases. Organizations across industries rely on SQL to access and work with the data contained in their databases. Important business information about products, customers, or orders is just some data an organization may store in a database. Among its many uses, SQL has applications for searching, updating, and maintaining databases. It can also insert or delete records from databases and change the database's actual structure by creating or deleting tables and objects.

SQL operates on local intranet or internet systems and can be used on laptops, PCs, servers, and some mobile devices. Even though SQL is considered to be a relatively simple programming language, it is a powerful tool for helping users retrieve the specific information they need within a large database. Those working with SQL don’t need coding skills and can instead use basic keywords such as “update” or “select” to perform data queries.

Some of the most-used relational database management systems that use SQL are Microsoft SQL Server, Ingres, Access, and Oracle.

What Can You Do with SQL?

For anyone who works with data, SQL knowledge is a must. Many fields and disciplines use this language to communicate with relational databases. SQL’s flexibility is designed to help you use statements based on English to query a database in multiple ways. Because SQL is the most-used database language, nearly every organization that has to store relational data relies on SQL, including major corporations such as Amazon, Google, and Uber. In addition, websites such as Facebook use SQL to store back-end data and process data.

SQL has a wide range of built-in functions that are useful for data analytics:

  • SQL COUNT can count how many rows are in a table
  • SQL MAX provides a way to select the highest value for a given column
  • SQL MIN lets users choose the minimum value for a column
  • SQL SUM totals the values in a column
  • SQL AVG can calculate the average within table columns

In addition, SQL has other useful applications for handling large volumes of data:

  • It can add, update, or delete records within a database
  • SQL can create new databases
  • SQL users can add new tables to an existing database
  • SQL can create views or stored procedures in a database
  • It can establish permissions on views, tables, and procedures.

Careers that Use SQL

SQL is used in a variety of industries and professions. Today, SQL remains a top choice for software applications since many relational database management systems use this language. Because of SQL’s versatility and flexibility, it has a wide range of professional applications. On LinkedIn alone, more than a million SQL jobs are currently listed.

The following are just some of the many professions that use SQL:

  • SEO Analysts who study data and revise site content to increase search traffic use SQL to help them navigate huge volumes of data.
  • Database Administrators ensure that database software at their organization successfully stores and organizes data so that workers can easily access it. They often manage teams of SQL Developers. Database Administrators also work to optimize SQL queries, monitor audits and backups, and keep SQL databases secure and accessible.
  • Software Engineers use a variety of programming languages to create application software and computer systems software. It is common for Software Engineers to work with SQL.
  • Data Scientists regularly perform data analytics, making SQL knowledge essential for extracting and analyzing Big Data to solve problems.
  • Business Analysts commonly use SQL to help them locate insights stored in the data on relational databases.
  • Journalists with SQL knowledge can quickly analyze, organize, and sort through vast stores of information, a process that would take much longer to do manually. Journalistic organizations around the globe, such as the National Union of Journalists, currently use SQL to help retrieve information from databases. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists listed SQL as one of its top-nine essential tools for data journalism.

Why Learn SQL?

Knowledge of SQL is one of the most in-demand skills in today’s workplace. Learning SQL has applications in many industries, particularly those focused on development and data. Developers who create software and websites rely on SQL to communicate with servers and store or display data. Those working in data fields often use SQL to gather data that teams will use for predictive modeling, analysis, or machine learning.

As technology continues to evolve, one constant that remains is that most data-oriented technologies use the SQL interface. SQL Server provides a platform for efficient data mining and data management, and it is especially helpful for data analysis in large databases with millions of entries. SQL can manage data pools with more than 100 million records and combine data from multiple sources, saving users valuable time.

Read more about why you should learn SQL.

How to Learn SQL

If you are interested in learning SQL, the good news is that various in-person and online learning options are currently available for learners at all levels. For those who prefer studying in a classroom, Noble Desktop created a class locator tool for students to browse in-person SQL classes close to home. In addition, for those who are more interested in virtual learning options, Noble Desktop’s live-online SQL courses are a great option. All courses provide live instruction with an expert in SQL.

For students looking to learn SQL around other life commitments like work or family, enrolling in a live-online class may not be feasible. Learning options such as on-demand SQL courses might be a better match. These affordable (or even free) introductory courses provide learners with self-paced instruction on core SQL topics, such as navigating databases, joining tables, writing SQL code, and making queries.

Another helpful learning option for those new to SQL is learning by video demonstrations. Noble Desktop has a YouTube playlist devoted to Python, data science, and SQL video tutorials. In addition to detailed tutorials on Python and data science, an hour-long Intro to SQL video covers SQL fundamentals, this language’s professional applications in various fields, and an overview of how to query databases. You can also learn SQL by taking Noble’s free Intro to SQL course, which covers SQL basics through a live demo of working with a database and performing SQL queries. Noble’s Classes Near Me Tool is also available to help find and compare SQL classes in your area.

Read the full guide on how to learn SQL.

Free Introductory SQL Course Online

If you aren’t entirely ready to dive into a full-length course in SQL but still want to learn more about this programming language, a great option is to begin your studies for free online. In Noble Desktop’s free Intro to SQL, students receive an hour of beginner-level instruction about databases, the professional applications of SQL among Data Engineers and Data Scientists, and real-world examples of what SQL can do.

In addition to Noble’s free introductory video, other top educational providers offer free online resources to help you learn SQL. Udemy currently has free coursework and tutorials devoted exclusively to SQL. It has beginner-level online courses, such as Introduction to Databases and SQL Querying, as well as SQL Foundations. For those seeking more advanced SQL instruction, Udemy also offers Advanced Databases and SQL Querying. If you’re interested in learning SQL’s specific applications in the data sciences, Coursera currently lists SQL for Data Sciences. This free course starts with SQL basics before progressing to more advanced topics, such as writing complex queries, creating tables, and data governance.

Read more about free SQL videos and online tutorials.

Level of Difficulty, Prerequisites, & Cost

One of the best features of SQL is that it’s based on English syntax, which means that English speakers, even those who don’t have prior programming experience, can learn this language relatively quickly. For the most part, the basic SQL dialects all use a very similar syntax. However, when learning SQL, the ordering of the written code isn’t the same as the order of execution. This means that in order to write effective queries, you must understand the correct query structure. Most SQL learners can become familiar with the basics of this language in approximately two to three weeks. However, if you’re looking to master more complex SQL querying or are learning this language on your own, it can take longer to attain a higher level of fluency.

In terms of price, SQL is free for developers and testers who intend to use it only for non-production purposes, like creating and developing software solutions. Learners can download SQL Server 2019 Developer for free from Microsoft. Microsoft offers a free Express version of SQL Server, which learners can use on the web, desktop devices, and small server applications. Microsoft also has a free trial of SQL Server 2022 public preview. In addition, Oracle SQL Developer is also available for free. Developers use this integrated environment to create and manage both traditional and cloud deployments of Oracle databases.

Licensing to use SQL Server for production purposes varies by product. SQL Server Standard Edition Server Licensing costs $931 (with an additional $209 for every named user client access license); SQL Server Enterprise Edition costs $7,128 for each core; SQL Server Standard Edition costs $1,859 per core.

Read about how difficult it is to learn SQL.

How Does Learning SQL Compare to Other Applications/Languages/Fields?

Experts consider learning SQL to be easier than many other programming languages. Because SQL is the actual language of the computer, those who master this language can more easily acquire other programming languages, such as Python or JavaScript. This open-source programming language has a robust community of developers, so topics related to SQL are often posted on sites such as StackOverflow. The sheer number of SQL users who post online can help SQL novices become more fluent in this language.

Another common language those who work with databases rely on is NoSQL. Unlike SQL databases, NoSQL databases are non-relational. Whereas SQL has a pre-defined schema, NoSQL databases incorporate dynamic schemas for managing unstructured data. NoSQL databases can be scaled horizontally, while those in SQL are vertically scalable. If you are working with multi-row transactions, SQL is the preferred database. For those handling unstructured data such as JSON, NoSQL is a better option.

If you are interested in finding free SQL databases, the most popular are MySQL and SQL Server. Several free NoSQL databases are also currently available as well, such as MongoDB.

How to Decide the Best Way to Learn SQL

The path of learning SQL varies from person to person. Because so many learning options are available to help you learn this popular programming language, it’s essential to consider which method best suits your needs and goals. The first step in the SQL learning journey is to decide why you’re interested in learning this language. For example, if you are new to SQL and only want a basic overview of what this language does and how to use it, a short introductory course such as Noble Desktop’s free Intro to SQL is a great starting point. In this hour-long class, you’ll learn how data science and data engineering professions use SQL and encounter real-world examples of SQL in use. Noble also offers SQL Level 1, a hands-on, one-day course that covers basic SQL concepts like working with tables and writing SQL queries.

However, if you’re looking to learn SQL to help with your current career, a bootcamp may be a better option. Noble’s SQL Bootcamp provides students with 18 hours of SQL instruction in industry-relevant topics, such as filtering and grouping data, using join statements, and performing subqueries. This course is offered both in-person in Manhattan and in the live-online environment, providing the additional flexibility of deciding which learning format is most suited for you. Because of the relatively short length of this bootcamp, you can become proficient in SQL without having to devote many weeks or months to full-time study. Noble also has an SQL Server Bootcamp, an intensive, 24-hour course that focuses primarily on Microsoft SQL Server.

Because no two learners are the same and no two learning environments are the same, it’s essential to compare different learning tools and environments most suited to your learning style and preferences as well as your professional goals. When deciding how you’d like to learn SQL, consider the cost of study and the demands of classwork when making your ultimate decision. If you have no prior programming or SQL experience, it would be easier to learn this language in a beginner-level course than in a rigorous bootcamp. In addition, if you prefer studying with an instructor in a classroom, in-person learning options may be more effective than remote study.

Learn SQL with Hands-on Training at Noble Desktop

When learning SQL for a career, many people choose instructor-led classes, which provide personalized assistance and in-the-moment feedback on their code. If you’re interested in learning the basics of SQL or receiving more advanced instruction, Noble Desktop has multiple course offerings in SQL. Classes are available in the live-online environment as well as in-person in New York City.

Those new to using SQL can enroll in Noble’s SQL Level 1, a beginner-friendly class designed to teach students the basics of working with this language. Throughout this instructor-led, one-day course, students build a foundation in SQL by learning about rows, columns, tables, and basic filtering. By course completion, participants will have a solid understanding of database architecture and will be able to write basic SQL queries for Microsoft SQL Server.

If you’re looking to learn more advanced SQL concepts, Noble also offers an SQL Bootcamp led by expert instructors. Those enrolled in this 18-hour course receive hands-on instruction on core SQL skills, such as how to write queries, filter and group data, and combine information from various tables using join statements. Participants in this small class also gain experience working with PostgreSQL as well as the free DBeaver app. All students have the option of a free retake of the course if they wish to brush up on their SQL skills. Prospective students can also learn more about SQL with Noble’s learning resources.

More SQL Resources

  • SQL SELECT Tutorial

    Simple Tutorial on how to use the SELECT statement in SQL

  • SQL WHERE Tutorial

    This tutorial walks through the basics of the WHERE statement in SQL and an example of how to use it.

  • SQL ORDER BY Tutorial

    Learn to use the ORDER BY function in SQL to sort data with our tutorial and screenshots.

  • SQL MIN Tutorial

    Learn the basics of the MIN function and how and when to use it in this tutorial.

  • SQL MAX Tutorial

    Learn the basics of the MAX function in SQL with an example and screenshots.

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