How to Learn SQL in 2024: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

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How to Learn SQL in 2024: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

SQL (Structured Query Language) is a language used to manage and manipulate data in relational databases. In today’s data-driven world, SQL is an essential tool for data analysts, developers, and anyone else who works with data. As AI tools and models grow in popularity, so will supporting languages like SQL that work with data. In this article, I will discuss what SQL is, its importance, relevance, and ways to learn it. I will also answer some common questions that beginners might have about SQL.

What is SQL and What is it Used For?

SQL is a programming language that is used to manage and manipulate relational databases. A relational database is a structured collection of data that is stored in tables, which are made up of rows and columns.

SQL allows users to interact with these tables using various commands and statements (queries). For example, a user can use SQL to select specific data from a table, update existing data, or insert new data into a table. SQL also allows users to create and modify tables, set up relationships between tables, and define constraints to ensure data integrity.

Here’s an example of an SQL query that gets a list of users that have ordered a product:

SELECT customer_name, order_date
FROM customers
JOIN orders ON customers.customer_id = orders.customer_id
JOIN order_items ON orders.order_id = order_items.order_id
JOIN products ON order_items.product_id = products.product_id
WHERE products.product_name = 'Roller Skates';

This query joins four tables – customers, orders, order_items, and products – to retrieve the names of customers who have ordered Roller Skates and the dates they placed the orders.

A sample response to this query might look like:

| customer_name   | order_date  |
|-----------------|-------------|
| John Faith      | 2023-01-01  |
| Kiara Johnson   | 2023-01-05  |
| Michelle Dams   | 2023-01-10  |
| Jennifer Liu    | 2023-01-15  |

Is SQL still relevant in 2024?

Yes! SQL continues to be one of the most widely used programming languages, particularly in the field of data analytics and database management. In fact, SQL’s popularity has grown in the past year (TIOBE index). Not bad for a 49 year old language!

Data literacy is expected to be the most in-demand workplace skill by 2030. The need for data management and analysis is increasing as more and more businesses and organizations rely on data-driven decision-making. With the rise of AI powered tools, any language that supports the updating and retrieving of this data will remain popular.

If you work in tech, not only is know data useful for your career but it will soon become essential.

Should you learn SQL?

If you’ve come to this article and are interested in data, analytics, or working as a backend developer, I would highly recommend learning SQL. Even if your goals are not related to data, SQL can still be a valuable skill to have. Here’s a list of benefits learning SQL might bring:

  1. Learn in-demand skills: SQL is used by many industries, including finance, healthcare, retail, and technology, so there are many job opportunities available for those who have SQL skills. As mentioned earlier, AI, and therefore database interactions are becoming increasingly popular.
  2. Become better at analyzing data: If you work with data, SQL can help you extract valuable insights and information from large datasets. SQL allows you to quickly and efficiently query and manipulate data. Any developer, analyst, UX researcher, or Product person can leverage these skills.
  3. Improve your productivity: SQL is a powerful tool that can help you manage and organize data. With SQL, you can automate repetitive tasks and streamline your workflow, which can save you time and increase your productivity.
  4. Learn Transferable skills: SQL is not limited to any particular industry or job role. Once you have learned SQL, you can apply it to a wide range of tasks and projects.
  5. Open up career opportunities: SQL is often a prerequisite for roles in data analysis, data science, and data engineering. Learning SQL can help you take your career in new directions.

Different ways to learn SQL

There are several ways to learn SQL and each one has its place depending on your goals, learning style, time availability, and budget. Below are some popular options to consider:

  1. Self-learning through online resources and courses: There are a plethora of books and courses available to learn SQL. These resources range from free YouTube videos to paid online courses from reputable institutions like SitePoint, Coursera, Udemy, and Codecademy. Self-learning is a flexible option for those who prefer to learn at their own pace and have a limited budget.
  2. Bootcamps and intensive training programs: Bootcamps and intensive training programs are designed to provide hands-on training in a condensed time frame. These programs are typically shorter than traditional college courses and aim to teach practical skills that can be immediately applied to real-world projects. Bootcamps and intensive training programs can be expensive but provide a faster and more immersive learning experience.
  3. Specialized SQL certifications: For those looking to advance their career in data-driven areas, SQL certifications can be a valuable credential to have. Certifications are offered by various organizations, including Microsoft, Oracle, and the Data Warehousing Institute. These certifications validate your SQL skills and knowledge and can increase your chances of landing a higher-paying job.
  4. Traditional classroom-based learning: If you prefer a structured learning environment and have the time and resources, traditional classroom-based learning might be a good option. Many universities and community colleges offer SQL as part of their core computer science or business programs. This option provides a more hands-on and interactive experience, allowing you to ask questions and get feedback from an instructor.

Getting started with SQL

Here’s a suggested approach to learning SQL. Each person if different, with varying programming skill level and goals, so take this with a grain of salt.

A shameless plug: our famous Simply SQL course follows these steps and more and we believe it’s the best way for a beginner to start.

  1. Understand the basics: Before diving into the complex queries, you need to understand the basic concepts of SQL, such as tables, columns, rows, and relationships between tables.
  2. Choose a database: Select a database management system (DBMS) and become familiar with it. Some popular ones include MySQL, PostgreSQL, Microsoft SQL Server, and Oracle. They are all very similar and MySQL Community edition and PostgreSQL are free. I recommend starting with one of those two.
  3. Practice with simple queries: Start practicing with simple queries, such as selecting data from a single table or filtering data based on certain criteria.
  4. Venture into complex queries: As you gain more experience, start building on your knowledge with more complex queries, such as joins or aggregating data.
  5. Use resources: There are plenty of resources available to help you learn SQL, including online tutorials, books, and courses. Make use of these resources to help you gain a deeper understanding of the language.
  6. Practice, practice, practice: The key to mastering SQL is practice. Try to work on real-world projects or challenges to help you improve your skills.

Questions SQL Beginners might be afraid to ask

What are the prerequisites for learning SQL, and do I need to have any coding experience?

You do not necessarily need to have any coding experience however, it is helpful to have some basic understanding of data and how it is organized. Some familiarity with spreadsheets or databases can be beneficial. It is also recommended that you have a basic understanding of algebraic concepts and logic, as SQL involves working with data sets and manipulating them through logical queries.

What are some real-world applications of SQL, and which industries rely on this skill?

SQL is used in many industries, including finance, healthcare, retail, and technology. It is used for tasks such as data analysis, reporting, and management. Companies of all sizes rely on SQL to store and manage their data. Some examples of real-world applications of SQL include customer relationship management, inventory management, and fraud detection.

How long does it take to learn SQL, and how much time should I invest in practicing to become proficient?

In general, it’s best to set realistic expectations for yourself and focus on continuous learning and improvement rather than trying to master SQL in a specific timeframe.

However, since you asked – the amount of time it takes to learn SQL varies depending on the individual and the level of proficiency they wish to achieve. Learning the basics of SQL can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Becoming proficient can take several months of consistent use.

It is important to keep practicing and applying what you learn in real-world scenarios to solidify your understanding of the language.

What are some popular RDBMS, and which one should I start with?

Some popular RDBMS include MySQL, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and PostgreSQL. The choice of RDBMS depends on your project requirements, budget, and level of expertise. MySQL is a popular choice for web development projects, while Oracle is commonly used in enterprise-level applications.

The main differences between them are:

  • Cost: Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server are commercial products that require a license, while MySQL and PostgreSQL are open-source and free to use.
  • Features: Each RDBMS has its own set of features and capabilities that can make it more suitable for certain use cases.
  • Popularity: While all four are widely used, some are more popular in certain industries or among certain groups of developers.

As for which one to learn first, it depends on your specific goals and needs. If you are just starting to learn SQL and want to get some hands-on experience, MySQL or PostgreSQL might be good choices since they are free and easy to set up. If you are interested in pursuing a career in a specific industry, it might be worth researching which RDBMS are commonly used in that field. Additionally, if you are already familiar with a certain RDBMS, it might make sense to continue learning and building on that knowledge.

What is an RDBMS?

An RDBMS stands for Relational Database Management System. It is a type of database management system that stores data in tables with relationships between them. RDBMS uses SQL to manage and manipulate the data stored in the tables. Examples of RDBMS include MySQL, Oracle, and Microsoft SQL Server.

What is NoSQL and what is the difference between SQL and NoSQL?

NoSQL stands for “not only SQL”. It is a type of DBMS that is used to store and manage unstructured or semi-structured data. On the other hand, SQL is used for structured data in relational databases.

One of the main differences between SQL and NoSQL is that SQL databases use a schema (a predefined structure for how data is organized), while NoSQL databases are schemaless, meaning data can be stored in a flexible and dynamic way.

SQL databases are typically better for handling complex queries and transactions, while NoSQL databases are better for handling large volumes of unstructured data, and for scalability.

If you are working with structured data and need complex querying capabilities, SQL may be the better choice. However, if you are working with unstructured data and need scalability, NoSQL may be the better option.

Summary

I hope this guide has helped you decide on whether you want to learn SQL and, if so, how to get started. It’s a popular and useful language that is expected to remain relevant for many years to come. Even if you aren’t interested in becoming a backend developer or database manager, SQL provides many benefits for career or personal productivity.

FAQs About Learning SQL

What is SQL?

SQL, or Structured Query Language, is a specialized programming language used for managing and querying relational databases. It allows you to interact with databases to store, retrieve, update, and manipulate data.

Why should I learn SQL?

Learning SQL is valuable because it enables you to work with data in a structured and efficient manner. It’s a fundamental skill for anyone involved in data analysis, database administration, web development, or software engineering.

Is SQL difficult to learn for beginners?

SQL is considered one of the more accessible programming languages for beginners. It has a relatively simple syntax and doesn’t require a deep understanding of programming concepts. It’s an excellent choice for those new to programming and databases.

Do I need a specific database system to learn SQL?

No, you can learn SQL with various database systems. Popular choices include MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQLite, Microsoft SQL Server, and Oracle. The core SQL syntax remains consistent across different databases, although there may be some vendor-specific differences.

How long does it take to learn SQL?

The time it takes to learn SQL varies depending on your prior experience and the depth of knowledge you wish to acquire. Many beginners can grasp the basics within a few weeks, but becoming proficient may take several months of practice.

Mark O'NeillMark O'Neill
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Mark is the General Manager of SitePoint.com. He loves to read and write about technology, startups, programming languages, and no code tools.

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