Anyone can learn SQL. It’s not as hard as you think!
In today’s world, even those in non-technical jobs need some technical skills. And you don’t have to be a hard-core nerd to get these skills. Let me tell you my own story.
A few years ago, I wasn’t considering learning SQL or anything else that I labelled “technical”. My background is in sociology, journalism, and scriptwriting, and I thought computer languages were pretty sci-fi. But once I started working on an e-learning project, I became increasingly aware of the fact that tech skills are not limited to programmers and developers. Anyone can and should use them.
I Want to Learn, But…
I decided to experiment with learning some of these strange, non-spoken languages we call programming languages. I looked up Structured Query Language (SQL) on Wikipedia, but my anxiety grew with every sentence I read. Here’s what I was thinking:
- “Whoa, this is too difficult for me!”
- “I’ve never done any programming before. I don’t have the knowledge for this.”
- “Wait, do I need technical skills to learn SQL?”
- “What new software will I need?”
- “Maybe I don’t really need SQL after all …”
- “How on earth does one speak to a database?!”
The only solution was to give it a try. I started Vertabelo Academy’s “SQL Basics” online course with the goal of discovering if a writer like me could get some technical competency. And that is how I got into the world of rows and columns.
See, It’s Not So Scary!
The first lesson of the online SQL course gave me some hope. I was going to learn to talk to a database! Well, not “talk”, precisely, but at least communicate. I would learn about relationships – relationships between tables and pieces of data, but still relationships! (These are what put the “relational” in “relational database”.) This sounded like a familiar, human-like sort of concept.
The fact that these ideas were actually fairly easy to grasp gave me the confidence to continue. Soon, I was learning my “first words” in SQL ( the
SELECT statement) and putting together simple sentences (a.k.a. queries).
Five Reasons I’m Not Afraid of SQL
Soon, I found out that SQL could have a lot of potential for non-technical people like me. As I got near the end of the course, I started to see databases everywhere. And I learned five reasons why no one should be afraid of using SQL:
Basic SQL Is Logical and Intuitive
SQL is based on sentences. It’s a bit like talking (or at least writing) to the database. The meaning of the queries and statements is simple, even obvious. I’d say that writing an SQL query is easier than doing the same operation in Excel.
Using the Vertabelo Academy course, you get a couple more perks. There’s immediate feedback after every exercise, which makes learning interesting. The instructions and explanations are clear, and hints are provided if anyone gets stuck.
You Only Need Basic Math and Some Excel
You do need some basic math to use SQL. You’ll need to know about “less than”, “greater than”, and “equal to” signs – although you can get a quick refresher online if you need to. You’ll be using SQL to add, subtract, divide, and multiply. In time, you’ll also learn some simple statistics. Don’t worry if your math skills are rusty; what you need to do will be described in the step-by-step directions. Also, understanding the fundamentals of how spreadsheets like Excel work and what they do will help. I venture to say that most people have these skills already.
As I moved through the course, I sometimes went back to previous lessons just to make sure I was doing things correctly (or if I’d forgotten how to do them). I also made a lot of notes. This helped me learn, but it also gave me some information to review afterwards.
You Have Control
One thing will determine how well you learn SQL, and that’s your own motivation. It’s like any other language, be it Java or Japanese. You need to have the motivation within yourself to learn it. You also need to give it time on a regular basis. And it helps if the method you use to learn is fun and gives you some encouragement to continue.
For me, an online course worked well because I could do it anytime. Plus, many courses make it like a game, seeing how many points you can get or how quickly you can get to the next level. This helped me keep going, and the immediate feedback I already mentioned boosted my confidence. I loved knowing that I had built a query by myself, without using any hints!
There’s also some excitement whenever you start a new lesson. What will we discover next? What else can we achieve? I remember when I found out how to find the total number of rows in my database without actually counting them – I felt like I had made a major breakthrough, and it made me want to see what else I could learn.
You Actually Have Some Analytical Powers Already
Being “analytical” is a really in-demand ability, and it’s one that seems really rare. But as I learned SQL, I realized that part of being analytical is being detail-oriented and organized (a combination that I call “tidy-minded”) and precise.
Imagining what a specific query will do requires you to think about the details. It can also require patience to get it right! Several times, I could not figure out why a query wasn’t working. After I carefully examined the details of what I was writing, I could see the solution. Also, I got quite a lot of queries wrong because I misspelled things. I guess that in addition to being detail-oriented, I needed to use my typing and editing skills.
So remember, neither SQL or analytical skills belong solely to technical people!
SQL Doesn’t Care About Your IT Background
Now it’s time for a confession: I haven’t taken the final SQL test yet. Does this mean that I’m unable to learn SQL? No; I think the cause is somewhere else – a lack of time and energy, perhaps. Or maybe the motivation is lacking: if I needed to start an SQL-centric job, I would have to finish in good time! Taking the course for personal development, as I am, there’s no pressure to finish. But I am planning to finish soon.
As I look back over my progress, I’ve realized that I don’t need to have a technical background to master SQL. While taking the course, I read the Vertabelo Academy blog for some additional insight. I also read the discussions attached to every lesson. I found out that some of my questions are common and don’t have anything to do with technical skills.
Inner Joy and INNER JOIN
Even at this semi-complete stage in my SQL Basics journey, I have learned the following lessons:
- Learning SQL is great for personal development.
- It’s good brain exercise!
- I don’t need a tech background to gain tech skills.
- I have a better understanding of what is behind websites and apps. Databases are everywhere!
- Changing career paths is always a possibility.
- I’ve learned something interesting I can share with others … and maybe brag about a little.
One of my techie friends is more excited about my SQL adventure than I am. When we recently met, I decided to show off a bit. I told him that I had just finished the part of the SQL course about
LEFT JOIN and
RIGHT JOIN. I wanted him to explain something to me, but I wanted to let him know how much I knew, too. He asked me straight away if I knew the most important thing about those operators. I was about to say “No” when I realized that actually I did know! I told him, and he looked at me with some respect. That was like +10 to my personal SQL prestige score!
There are many people with similar concerns about learning SQL. I have friends who are more technically skilled than I am, and they don’t want to give it a try. For them, SQL is still a little too sci-fi. To all these people, I want to say that you don’t need to have crazy IT skills to succeed at SQL. Take it from me, a non-technical person.
If you have a similar story, share it the comments section. Let’s encourage everyone to develop their SQL and other database-related skills!