The first thing you need to know about SQL is that it’s pretty much everywhere. You may not notice it in your daily life but companies big and small use SQL to “talk” to their databases and access information. Why? Because without information, they can’t make good business decisions. (And bad business decisions are guaranteed to kill a company.)
In this article, we’ll explore why SQL, or “Structured Query Language”, is essential for any professional. And that includes non-technical roles like marketing, operations, finance, sales, and support.
We’ll go through specific examples of how different professionals use SQL in their daily life, and provide you with some important tips on how to learn it as efficiently as possible.
But first, let’s talk about the basics.
SQL stands for Structured Query Language.
It’s a query language — a type of language that lets you interact with a database. Here’s an example:
SELECT * FROM orders LIMIT 10;
The query above returns all the information in the database called “orders” and shows the first 10 items. You write queries in plain English, asking the database to show you information using a set of predefined commands. It’s easy - everyone can do that.
1. It’s valuable across many roles
Whether you’re a coder, or in product, analysis, marketing, operations, QA, or even sales – SQL will make your life easier and save your time!
2. You’ll seem like a superhero
You’ll be more self-sufficient with data. Others will come to you for advice. It adds a lot to your resume. Recruiters will pay more attention to you.
3. It’s not going anywhere
It’s been around for over 40 years. And yet it’s the structure for the top 4 databases, and the 3rd most popular technical language in general.
4. It’s an important foundation for many other tools
One example: SQL is needed to work effectively with business intelligence tools like Mode, Looker, and Tableau. Instead of just passively viewing reports, you’ll be able to build them from scratch or adapt them to your needs. You’ll also have a better understanding of where the data is coming from, and how it’s structured.
5. It’s an essential skill for the digital age we live in
Many would say that software is eating the world and data is the new oil. Learning SQL fundamentally separates you from all others in your role by giving you an extra dimension in your ability to execute. You’ll be able to talk to computers, and access data in its raw form!
No matter which product or service you work on, one thing always remains the same. Marketers are obsessed with users and spend the best years of their lives trying to understand users’ needs, incentives, and behavior.
All of this information is stored in a database in the form of data signals and attributes. Think about SQL as a shortcut to that data. That’s why SQL is so powerful - it allows marketing managers to see any data they want about anything their customers do.
Even though SQL is relatively easy to learn, marketers with such skills are in very high demand and low supply. This makes knowing SQL one of the most impactful career improvements any marketer can unlock.
What if you could easily find how many users waited on your support phone line for more than 60 seconds? Or segment users of your job site based on a number of months since they last edited their profile? Did they find a job or are they still searching?
For operations and support professionals, SQL provides a shortcut to granular data that empowers them to make educated and data-driven decisions, contributing to company growth.
Finance and accounting are not easy. They not only require strong smarts and attention to detail, but also plenty of mental power. You have to stay sane (!) while working with hundreds of fragmented sources of data from different spreadsheets and reports. To cut a long story short - it’s a lot of pain unless you’re used to it. (For those that can get used to it!)
SQL helps finance professionals automate boring things. It’s a perfect tool to organize and map various sources of data together, replacing dozens of hours of work with a few simple queries.
If you feel like you’re wasting a lot of time in a spreadsheet - learning SQL will save you.
At best, SQL is glossed over in CS degrees. And many developers don’t work directly with SQL in their jobs, so it turns out that many don’t have strong experience with it. They know a few things here and there but whenever a complicated issue arises – they have to scroll through dozens of Stackoverflow questions trying to fix the query or ask colleagues for help.
Let’s also not forget that SQLite is the default database set up in Django, the second most popular framework for Python. *insert your favorite joke about database migrations here*
In general, SQL is the oldest, most established and wide-spread technology in terms of data relationships. It's used almost everywhere, so it makes developers more productive in many environments and settings.
Test. Measure. Learn. Product managers do it daily.
SQL is unlikely to help product managers come up with ideas for tests. However, it will most definitely help to measure the results and learn from them.
Moreover, running a quick query to find supporting data BEFORE the development has begun can save you time and money. From my personal experience, a 10-minute “sanity check” query can save a few weeks of engineers’ work. In some cases, months.
One of the most popular SQL use cases for marketers is segmentation. Marketers use SQL to group users based on their attributes and get insights about their performance.
For example, the marketing department of Embark uses SQL to improve the quality of their ads and better contribute to the company’s growth. They organize customers into the best-performing and under-performing segments in order to decrease their cost per acquisition (CPA) and better invest the marketing budget.
As we mentioned earlier, finance and accounting professionals need to combine an extreme number of fragmented reports into a few standardized formats. Not an easy task.
SQL helps them clean up the data at scale, map different reports together using a common field, and export data into a proper user-friendly format that can be later used in a spreadsheet.
The best part – once the SQL query is ready, it’s reusable for years to come. And even more, SQL queries can be integrated directly into your spreadsheet, allowing you to pull the information from the database in real-time. Smart!
Many business intelligence tools like Looker, Mode and Tableau can be used as a “viewer” with little or no SQL knowledge. But being confident in SQL unlocks the biggest value of those tools - each employee being able to easily and quickly adapt the reports to their needs.
Plus - you’ll be able to have much more precise and advanced conversations with the technical people in your team in the context of how the BI tools are set up. This ensures they were set up properly in the first place, and they evolve in the right way based on the needs across the whole org.
QA engineers use SQL to… find bugs and fix things. Here’s a quote from a QA manager from talent marketplace Jyve that speaks for itself:
Operations and support professionals use SQL to analyze transactions and even prevent credit card fraud. Professionals at companies like Privacy.com use SQL to find all transactions made by a known bad actor, flag, and remove them from business reports and reported revenue. It saves a crazy amount of time and also helps to prevent fraudulent transactions from happening in the future, saving the company money. Win-win!
Here are some very important tips on how to choose a good SQL course and make the most out of it.
You can learn anything on YouTube these days. However, less than 7% of users watch videos to the end; and far fewer if they’re learning-related or technical. If you’re serious about learning SQL - it’s not the best avenue to take.
Find a course that provides an interactive playground where you can type in your queries and immediately see the results. This way you’ll learn by doing instead of passively watching. Moreover, it’s an amazing feeling to see your first line of code work.
There are two main reasons why mentorship is important.
A good mentor will provide you with an opportunity to ask questions and find answers fast. Moreover, when you don’t understand something, mentors not only help you to process information but also provide valuable examples and insights that you won’t be able to find anywhere online.
The second reason is motivation. It’s so much easier to give up when you’re learning alone!
A good mentor will push you forward and provide inspiration in the moments when you feel like you’re stuck. In many cases, the problem that got you stuck with can be solved in minutes. Don’t let yourself give up that easily - if the course you find doesn’t already have mentorship or expert guidance, find a mentor to guide you forward.
Having mentored hundreds of professionals in SQL, we noticed that teams tend to learn SQL more efficiently. Colleagues tend to support each other, help each other with complicated queries, while also providing a new perspective on business problems and opportunities.
All of it translates into improved collaboration inside your team that extends far beyond databases and queries.
It’s very important to keep in mind how you’ll apply your SQL skills in a way that matters to you or your role at work. This way you’ll be motivated to learn fast, and get value much more quickly.
For example: what kind of data could help you make better decisions in your role? Which queries could help save time for you or others in your team? Or think of a personal project - how about using SQL to analyze your shopping patterns, or downloading COVID-19 data to play around with if you’re feeling adventurous. Get creative!
Completing a course that offers certification is very strong signaling - both for internal promotions and for new job opportunities. Opt-in for a course with a certificate even if it requires you to pay a bit extra.
If you recently browsed job sites and skimmed through various positions - SQL skills have recently shifted from the “good to have” section to the “minimum requirements” one. Having a certificate to show during the interview (on top of actually having the skills!) definitely helps.
SQL is a language that helps you to talk to a database and access the stored information. Even though you’ll want to have the right guidance, anyone can pick it up relatively fast, and the upside of doing so is absolutely worth it.
You’ll improve your productivity by automating boring work. Easy and faster access to data will help you make better business decisions, faster. Your job opportunities will improve as well as your salary expectations.
Learn SQL. It’s well worth it.
At Enki, we combine best in class remote mentors with an interactive online course to help you learn SQL in one month and no time out of work.
With all the key elements we list above for how best to learn SQL, and a course completion rate of over 90%, Enki is the most efficient way to learn SQL for professionals and teams.