These days, almost everyone has to work with data in some form or another. Usually it's through spreadsheets or databases, but if you can learn a little SQL you can become so much more powerful in your job.
Data analytics spans every aspect of business, from research and development to marketing, accounting, and beyond. And data analytics would be impossible without the efficient querying of the massive databases holding the data.
One of the most common database structures today is the relational database. And going hand-in-hand with relational databases is Structured Querying Language or SQL (pronounced S-Q-L or sequel).
SQL is a powerful and robust tool for extracting relevant and useful data from a large dataset. While SQL has traditionally been the specialty of highly-trained data analysts and programmers, it's finding greater acceptance among non-technical personnel. And there are many good reasons for that.
Learning SQL is easier than you might think, and the benefits of doing so far outweigh the time investment. If you make this investment, it'll increase your value to your teams while also increasing your marketability within your organizations and in the broader market.
How to Overcome Your Fear of Learning Computer Programming
Convincing “non-technical users” to learn “technical” subject matter can be a challenge, because they often view it as too complex or too confusing.
Many users are intimidated by the notion of learning a programming language, or indeed anything beyond the graphical interfaces they tend to deal with daily.
Ironically, non-technical team members often simply can’t relate to the concept of a relational database. Tell a non-technical person that SQL is a domain-specific language for querying and maintaining relational databases and their eyes may glaze over.
But this need not be the case. If team leaders instead tell the team that SQL is a way to quickly and easily identify data that will help make their everyday work simpler, they may have the team’s attention.
Once you overcome the first hurdle, the next step is to convince your team members that learning SQL isn’t like learning a foreign language with a different alphabet. Instead, they need to know that they will be able to work with SQL using everyday English words like SELECT, CREATE, ADD and JOIN.
Now, the team is in a position of not only understanding why they would want to learn SQL, but they’re convinced that they can do it.
Specific Benefits of Learning SQL
There are many reasons why you should learn SQL, including:
SQL and relational databases are everywhere
Learning SQL can not only enhance your skills, but it can also give you a better understanding of applications you work with on a daily basis.
You won't just be dealing with the company data in relational databases, but everything from cloud storage to social media accounts to ecommerce applications. A wide variety of open source databases are also available and can help you practice building SQL queries.
One downside of the popularity and ease of use of SQL and relational databases is that cybercriminals have developed highly effective methods for hacking systems that use SQL.
According to cybersecurity expert Mark Preston of Cloud Defense,
“SQL injections are attacks that occur when cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities within search queries executed by a host database. This allows attackers to get access to sensitive information or even change authorizations or user permissions. They can also destroy or manipulate sensitive data found in that database.”
But this should only make you want to learn SQL more. The more you know about SQL, the easier it will be to understand how to defeat SQL injection attacks as well.
SQL is easy to learn
As we discussed above, unlike learning a foreign language or a hardcore programming language, SQL is quite simple to learn.
Because SQL query syntax relies on common English words, even if you have no programming experience you can easily understand how to use it. But it may take somewhat longer to become proficient than if you had come in with some programming experience.
There are many online resources for learning SQL at all levels, and many entry-level courses are free.
Developing basic familiarity with SQL should not take more than a few hours of your time. While you can invest as much time as you want in becoming a SQL expert, for most teams, a fundamental understanding of SQL is sufficient.
SQL easily deals with big data
Even the smallest organizations maintain and use huge amounts of data these days. The ability to effectively mine that data and present it in an easily digestible format is indispensable.
If you've ever have tried to take large data sets and analyze them in applications like Excel, you've probably quickly learned about program limitations in dealing with large datasets.
Nothing is more frustrating than having a program crash in the midst of performing critical work. SQL is a more robust and faster way to process large data sets and also more rigorously ensures the integrity of the data set.
Knowing SQL builds more valuable team members
Every team within an organization has its own data needs. Marketing teams need to understand customer needs and wants, as well as the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. Manufacturing and engineering departments want data about productivity.
Accounting teams can use big data to understand market movements, and C-suites need data from every department to develop long-term organizational strategy. But relevant data may be contained in a variety of data sets across the organization.
I can't overstate the importance of being able to generate the most relevant data to meet your team's needs. Learning SQL allows you to consolidate data from multiple data sources and convert complex data sets to actionable intelligence.
More broadly, learning to build good SQL queries helps develop team members’ logical thinking skills. And optimizing SQL queries helps you better understand which questions your team should be asking, and how those questions should best be phrased.
Knowing SQL gives team members new opportunities
Knowledge of SQL is a highly marketable skill, both within an organization and for other organizations. Learning SQL is therefore an effective use of time, and one with a high potential return on investment.
By quickly adding a desired skill to your résumé, you can generate opportunities for advancement within the organization. And if your company isn’t looking for that particular set of skills, rest assured that others are.
In essence, basic SQL knowledge allows you to accomplish tasks that previously may have been sent to other departments. By skipping a middleman, you become more efficient and reduce potential delays in completing your projects.
In a world where businesses are dependent on big data, understanding what data is available and what data you actually need (and how to distinguish one from the other) is an invaluable skill.
If you can quickly extract the information you need from the data you have, you'll become increasingly valuable to your team. Learning SQL is a simple and fast way to accomplish this.