The fact is, most major companies and websites utilize large databases. Managing these creates lots of opportunities. Learning SQL can put you on a great career trajectory that will last a long time.
However, learning SQL isn’t necessarily easy. It is considered a specialized language and there is a lot to take in.
The good news is, there are steps you can take to make that learning curve less steep. In this article, we will look at what those steps are and how you can ensure that you get the best possible start on your SQL journey.
1. Understand What SQL is and Does
This is something that should be comprehended as soon as you can. If you have taken an interest in SQL, (Structured Query Language) you will be forming a picture of its fundamental purpose.
The last thing you want to do is get to the end of your course and realize that it is not for you.
There are a number of great introductory videos on YouTube that cover what SQL is, essentially, however, SQL is the language of databases.
SQL is the code that is used to access, manage, and modify data within a database. This is quite specific. It also means that if your aim is to become a programmer (apps, websites, etc), you should not learn SQL as your first language.
It is worth reading this article about the types of careers you can have with SQL knowledge. If any of these appeals to you, learning SQL will be worthwhile.
2. Take an Appropriate SQL Course
Once you’ve realized that SQL is the right path for you, the obvious first step is to take a relevant, SQL course.
This should cover not only the basics but also includes practical exercises that you can follow.
Online courses are a great way to do this and they are very affordable too. Look for something that teaches syntax, conventions, and other common SQL language features.
You will be able to follow these at your own pace which is important if you are doing so alongside a full-time job.
Always check the curriculum and ensure that the teacher is reputable and experienced. SQL courses on Udemy for example are commonly taught by practitioners that actually work in the field.
The following steps can be taken at the same time as your online course, however, I would recommend that your research and enrolment on an SQL course comes first.
3. Familiarize Yourself with the Different Database Systems
It is important to understand that there are different database systems, all of which take a slightly different approach to SQL.
As a working SQL developer or database administrator, you will need to orientate this.
Hopefully, your course of choice will cover some of the main ones (MySQL, MariaDB, Oracle, PostgreSQL), however, considering there are hundreds of database systems being used in 2021, understanding the nuances of every single one is unrealistic.
By ensuring that you have spent time familiarizing yourself with the industry leaders and how they are used, you will put yourself in a good light with employers.
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4. Don’t Cut Corners – Follow Best Practices From the Start
The early stages of your SQL coding journey are the best time to begin following best practices. Make these a habit, and don’t cut corners through impatience.
Basic concepts and syntax are the easy side of SQL and can be learned quickly. Take care not to get sloppy with these as your familiarity grows.
Always follow the best practices as set out by your tutor, and take this discipline with you as you begin coding for real.
If you pick up bad habits early on, you will be a poorer coder for it. And nobody should want that, (least of all employers).
5. Study SQL Error Codes
While it is important to follow best practices, there will inevitably be times when things go wrong.
To combat this, knowing your SQL error codes early on will be a real benefit to you.
It will certainly help your mistakes seem less of a stress.
Having the ability to troubleshoot and tweaking code in the event of errors is a necessary skill. Understanding error codes will help you focus your attention on the trouble spots and reach a solution fast.
In the real world where an SQL error might mean the shut down of an entire application, fast response times are vital. Acting calmly when faced with error codes is a skill that will take you a long way.
The IBM Knowledge Center provides one of the largest lists of common SQL errors you might come across. Read this inside and out. You’ll thank me for this later.
6. Put the SQL Code into Practice
As soon as you can, you should take what you have learned and put it into practice. This could be in the form of the coding exercises on the course you are taking.
It might also be through having a go at online coding challenges.
There are a number of websites and online communities around (HackerRank is a good one) that offer challenges to beginners (and advanced programmers for that matter).
These will provide clear instructions and a set goal, creating a great environment for practicing what you have learned.
With the specific goal in mind, you set to work, writing code that will efficiently satisfy the objective.
Furthermore, competitions such as this, allow you to compete with fellow coders. This opens doors to networking opportunities.
It also serves to bolster enthusiasm as you are no longer working in a vacuum but can learn and discuss SQL with others that are on the same journey as you.
This leads me to my next point…
7. Connect With Other Coders
Learning SQL (especially via online course), can be a lonely affair. The course content will normally be provided via prerecorded videos, and correspondence via email.
There is rarely any real-time communication.
This can make connecting with others difficult. I’ve mentioned the competitions above, however, if jumping into these seems daunting, an easier method of connecting with others is the many online coding communities around.
I would also recommend the Microsoft Developer Network. There are also Facebook groups and if you live in a big enough metropolis, there may even be coding conventions and meetups, where like-minded SQL individuals will be hanging out.
Meeting and discussing SQL with others, whether online or face-to-face will help keep your enthusiasm up if the learning gets tough.
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