SQL is a widely-used programming language that can open up a whole host of career opportunities for those that learn it.
The most obvious is in the area of software engineer, with tech companies all over the world seeking candidates with the right SQL knowledge and training.
However, to limit your ideas to that one arena is to underestimate the diversity of SQL-based roles.
In this article, we will look at 5 career paths you can follow if you have learned SQL to a sufficient standard.
First, though, let’s take a quick look at what SQL is.
What is SQL?
SQL stands for Structured Query Language. The most direct explanation is to say that SQL code is written (and therefore used) to query data from within databases.
Essentially, it is the programming language used to talk to databases.
What is the format of SQL?
SQL is a relatively intuitive programming language to learn, (find out about 10 of the best SQL courses currently running on Udemy, here).
Databases organize data into rows and columns. An SQL script is a process of either retrieving or writing data into cells within the database structure.
Hang on… that sounds a lot like Excel… What’s the difference?
Comparing an SQL database to Excel is valid. However, SQL databases are a lot more powerful than a simple Excel sheet.
For instance, an SQL database such as MYSQL (used as the backbone of most websites online) can process data over a billion or more rows. Excel, by comparison, can handle about a million.
Importantly in terms of data handling and compatibility, SQL can also talk directly with other programming languages. By interacting with applications built with Python, Ruby, or Java, you have much more versatility over your data.
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So what types of jobs require SQL skills?
The answer to that is many. Let’s take a look at 5 top examples now.
1. Data Scientist
Data science is one of the biggest fields for candidates with SQL skills. As analytical experts, data scientists can be found in sectors such as pharmaceutical, technology, public sector, health, and social sciences.
If you have heard the popular expression “Big Data” lately, somewhere in the background is a team of data scientists with SQL skills.
All manner of businesses spend good money trying to recognize trends and manage data scale; that’s why candidates with SQL skills can earn very good salaries.
However, it is common for Data Scientists to have more than just knowledge of SQL.
Because machine learning is such an important part of the process of dealing with big data, a combination of skills that might also incorporate Python, Hadoop, C+, and Java make for a desirable candidate.
2. Business Analyst
A role that would not require additional programming language skills beyond SQL is Business Analyst.
Here, you would be employed to help direct businesses towards more efficient processes, products, and services, through analyzing the business with a quantitative, data-driven approach.
Gap analysis is a big part of the process. In layman’s terms, a business analyst will have the skills to evaluate the current state of a business and identify the correct steps required to reach a desired future state.
Because data analysis is an important step towards this, SQL knowledge can be very useful and is often cited as a required skill in Business Analyst job openings.
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Yes, you’ve read that correctly, believe it or not, it is possible to find work in the journalism sector if you have SQL skills.
A modern news publishing company has to collect reams of data in the investigation, publication, and distribution of news to the public.
Journalists that have a working knowledge of SQL are in demand because they have the skills to analyze, organize, and filter lots of information at the speed required for daily news operations.
The UK-based National Union of Journalists has been using SQL to work with databases for several years.
Furthermore (and an important note to pay attention to if you are a working journalist or are looking to enter the field), The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists named SQL as one of their “Nine essential tools” for data journalism.
4. Database Administrator
A Database Administrator (DBA) is another popular career path for individuals with SQL skills.
As the job title suggests, the role requires the administration of databases in terms of general management and organization of the stored data.
This will also involve overseeing the wider use of the database in terms of its practical application, as well as important security requirements.
They also help to optimize SQL queries and efficiency of the database as well as oversee backups, audits, and other aspects of SQL database maintenance.
DBAs will normally work alongside dedicated SQL developers (see software engineers below), which means having an understanding of SQL computer programming and data architecture is very beneficial.
5. Software Engineer
Finally, we have the all-important area of Software Engineer.
In relation to SQL, this role can come in a number of forms. There are SQL developers who will need a deep understanding of SQL and are able to write sophisticated code using SQL.
However, the candidate may also be working in any one of the major programming languages (C+, Python, Java, etc), and where a working knowledge of SQL will be highly desirable.
Software engineers work in a wide range of fields and are employed to help develop applications on your phone, laptop, internet, even your fridge.
If you are already a working software engineer, a good way to level up in your career is to have SQL knowledge. You are definitely more likely to get paid more than a candidate who cannot cite SQL as a skill on their resume.
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- SQL for data scientists: designing SQL tutorials for scalable online teaching. Proceedings of the VLDB Endowment, (2020); https://doi.org/10.14778/3415478.3415526
- From computer-assisted to data-driven: Journalism and Big Data, Philip Hammond, (2015); https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884915620205
- An investigation of skill requirements for business and data analytics positions: A content analysis of job advertisements, (2019); 94:4, 243-250,
- Gamification and SQL: An Empirical Study on Student Performance in a Database Course, (2020) ACM Transactions on Computing Education Article No: 3; https://doi.org/10.1145/3427597