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Beginner's guide to learning SQL

By Team Multiverse

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Contents

  1. What is SQL?
  2. What is SQL used for?
  3. Why learn SQL?
  4. What types of jobs use SQL?
  5. How long does it take to learn SQL?
  6. Examples of SQL
  7. How can you learn SQL?
  8. Learning SQL with Multiverse

SQL can be a valuable language for aspiring Back End Developers and Data Scientists to learn. As more businesses collect and rely on data, the demand for people that know SQL grows. If you’re interested in it, one of the first questions you may have is—how long does it take to learn SQL?

Luckily, most can learn SQL in three to four weeks. It may vary depending on your experience, how you will use SQL and other factors. We’ll dive into those and everything else you should know about learning SQL below.

What is SQL?

SQL has been around for a long time—almost half a century. Two researchers created SQL while working at IBM in the early 70s. They called it SEQUEL then. It’s now shortened to SQL and stands for Structured Query Language.

SQL is the language for communicating with databases. It isn’t a programming language but a query language. It only works within a database and it gives users the ability to access or manipulate data.

Before SQL, businesses struggled to handle large amounts of data. The infrastructure couldn’t support it. It’s because of SQL and its versatility, that companies today are able to manage millions of customer records and other large datasets.

What is SQL used for?

Written SQL code acts like a set of instructions that a database follows. Before you can understand what SQL is used for, you need to understand databases.

A database can be anything that stores information about customers, orders, products, finances, and more.

You may not realize it, but most sites and applications use databases. Video streaming services like Netflix collect and use data to recommend content to users. Amazon has a huge database that it uses for advertising, product recommendations, and more.

This makes SQL a highly-sought after skill in the tech world. Plus, many tech companies from Microsoft to Google use SQL and customize the base language for their own database systems.

SQL is the dominant language for all database management systems (DBMS). These can be compared to content management systems (Squarespace, WordPress, etc). However, instead of managing content, they manage data.

Examples of DBMS systems include:

  • MySQL
  • PostgreSQL
  • Oracle

How developers use SQL

SQL is commonly associated with data scientists, but developers also use it.

As mentioned, websites and apps that capture data—login info, purchase history, and other behaviors—all require databases. The data passes through the database management system. Then, developers can use SQL to store data and manage how an application uses it.

When you post an image on Instagram, that post’s data is sent through Instagram’s system and stored in its database. Every time you open the app, it runs SQL queries to show you the posts in your home feed, and it grabs that information from the database before serving it.

How Data Scientists use SQL

SQL goes beyond what users see. Data is incredibly important in today’s world, and analysts use it for research every single day.

When data scientists need to retrieve or manipulate data, they use SQL. With SQL, you can write statements that will query a database to perform anything, including returning data, changing it, or deleting it. It is known as CRUD—create, read, update, and delete. They are types of commands that applications that manage data need.

SQL also allows you to query data to find exactly what you need to analyze. Finance, marketing, science, and several other industries use SQL to analyze data.

SQL skills for Developers and Data Scientists

There are a handful of SQL skills that Devs and Data Scientists will need to master, such as:

  • Database-specific features and syntax
  • Database management
  • Understand how SQL Joins work
  • Indexing and tables
  • Nested queries
  • Optimized queries
  • Execution plans
  • How to use transactions in a database

Why learn SQL?

There are many reasons why learning SQL can benefit your career. Here are some of the top ones.

SQL skills are in-demand

SQL is used nearly everywhere, from major companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, down to small startups. Any developer who’s interested in doing backend, full stack, or API development needs to know SQL. In addition, SQL is the most in-demand skill for data science roles. You’d have difficulty in a data science or analysis role without it.

It can lead to high-paying jobs

Learning SQL can lead to a six-figure job. According to Salary.com, the average salary for a SQL Developer in the United States ranges from $89,000 to over $100,000 a year. A Senior SQL Developer with years of experience can earn a much higher salary.

SQL Data Analysts can earn $75,000 to $90,000 starting out. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics(opens new window), the average annual salary for a Data Scientist is $108,660.

Job prospects are flexible

Building your SQL skills can lead to more job opportunities beyond developer and data science roles, too. It’s common for QA testers, support specialists, and analysts to know SQL. Most technical jobs in finance or marketing list SQL as a requirement.

Learning SQL is easy

You can learn the basics of SQL in as little as a few weeks. SQL uses many terms that you are already familiar with—Select, Where, Delete, Update, etc. However, there are more complex SQL commands you’ll need to learn to reach a mastery level.

The trick is to learn how to arrange your SQL statements to perform the actions you want. To learn SQL faster and develop your skills, consistently practice using SQL commands to manipulate data.

What types of jobs use SQL?

If you’re wondering how long it takes to learn SQL, you may already have a specific job title in mind. Learning SQL can open the door to many different career paths, so you may want to keep these in mind.

Developers

Most developers use SQL, but not all. For example, Frontend Developers may rarely need SQL. For some roles, SQL is a requirement. Fullstack and Backend Developers use SQL the most, as they need it to manipulate data within a system.

Data Scientists

As a Data Scientist, you’ll use SQL in almost every aspect of your job. Data Scientists help organizations make sense of their data. They also find new ways to collect, organize, and analyze data. With a firm grasp of SQL, it’s easier to look for trends and patterns in datasets and use those insights to make strategic decisions.

Business Analyst

Similar to Data Scientists, Business Analysts also use SQL to pull and analyze their data, but generally on a smaller scale. They typically stick to marketing data and similar fields to make data-driven decisions for an organization.

Database Administrator (DBA)

DBAs manage the ins and outs of databases, from how they’re structured to how they operate. They assist developers with integrating the database into a system and work on optimizing queries.

How long does it take to learn SQL?

On its own, SQL isn’t hard to learn. You can learn SQL in as little as two to three weeks. However, it can take months of practice before you feel comfortable using it.

Determining how long it takes to learn SQL also depends on how you plan to use it. Learning SQL for development might take a little longer, especially if you are not familiar with many programming languages. Learning SQL purely for data analysis can take less time because you don’t need to have a development background.

The syntax, the rules of what a word or combination of words mean, for SQL is easy to learn for two reasons. It does not have a lot of keywords to learn and it doesn’t differ much from the English language.

That doesn’t mean learning SQL is without challenges. It may be a challenge to find data to use while you’re learning.

Another challenge in learning SQL is that each database’s flavor of SQL is slightly different. This is uncommon for programming languages but not for SQL.

Since SQL is a standardized language, all implementations of it generally work the same. Some database software will come with additional features. As an example, you can see PostgreSQL’s documentation on their version of SQL here(opens new window).

Examples of SQL

Talking about learning a new language can seem vague without real-world examples. We’ve shared some common SQL examples and how you might use them below.

SELECT

The SQL SELECT statement retrieves data, usually from a table. You might use it to pull up information from a specific customer, city, or other criteria.

UPDATE

In SQL, the UPDATE statement changes or edits selected data. You’ll likely use UPDATE in combination with WHERE or SET.

WHERE

This statement tells the database which row should be updated, and without it, you could update everything.

SET

The SET statement identifies a column and a value to update. For example, you might want to update a customer’s last name after they get married.

Combined, SQL might look like:

UPDATE Customers

SET ContactName = 'Jane Smith',

WHERE CustomerID = 3;

This would update the name of the customer listed in Row 3 of your data table to Jane Smith. Of course, this is a basic introduction to SQL. As you progress, the statements and how you use them will be more complex.

How can you learn SQL?

SQL is one of the easiest languages to learn, and you can learn it at little to no cost. For example, Multiverse’s Data Fellowship program is free, and you’ll learn SQL and data visualization.

Here are some steps that can help you learn SQL quickly and effectively.

1. Learn basic SQL syntax

Learning any language starts with the basics—common vocabulary and phrases. The SQL syntax is easy to learn, and there are hundreds of tutorials online that can help you. You can test your knowledge of the basics with flashcards, online challenges, and free quizzes.

There are also dozens of free resources like this SQL Query Cheatsheet. Don’t feel like you need to remember every line of SQL code in order to start using it. Many Developers and Data Scientists search Google for SQL code when they need it.

However, you need to know what to search for, and that comes with practice. Get your hands dirty and write some queries of your own.

2. Practice with real data

To practice SQL, you’ll need to download a database management system like MySQL or PostgreSQL. However, that’s only part of the equation. You’ll need real data sets to work with first. Then, add your data sets to a database and practice manipulating it with SQL.

Kaggle(opens new window) is one site where you can pull test data for free. Practicing with real data in a database is the goal. Eventually, you’ll get comfortable writing queries and pulling data.

3. Learn joins

The real power of SQL happens when you are able to combine and manipulate data from multiple sources or tables. In SQL, joins are statements or clauses that make doing this possible. With joins, you can access data from two or more tables.

A practical example of this is social media. When users update their profile name, a SQL join can simplify the process. With it, the application can update the name of the user’s profile information and past post history. If you want to excel with SQL, you’ll need to learn joins.

Learning SQL with Multiverse

Even though SQL has been around since the 70s, it powers most modern sites and software. Without it, we’d never have seen data become as important as it is now.

If you’ve ever wondered how to learn SQL, there’s no time like the present. As for, how long does it take to learn SQL? Well, that depends on you.

With a surplus of online resources online, you can quickly get started with building and manipulating databases in no time at all. If you want to take a more structured approach and build a foundation for a Data Science or Software Engineering career, including SQL, check out our apprenticeships.(opens new window)

Team Multiverse

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