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How to Learn SQL

It takes quite an effort to learn SQL or any new skill for that matter. But pushing hard is not enough to learn it successfully. You can sit for hours and still feel like you're not making progress. So, what do you do? Let it go or try even harder? I say: work smart, not hard.

SQL (Structured Query Language) is one of the most popular programming languages. It is an invaluable tool in a world overflowing with data. Its role is to "talk" to databases. With SQL, you send a question (a query) to a database to get the answer you need.

Not only can you retrieve data from a database, but you can also insert, modify, and remove data. This really important language provides the capability to make simple as well as complex computations on data. SQL is a perfect tool to deal with huge amounts of information.

The best way to discover SQL and its handiness is to learn it for yourself. Start with our SQL Basics online course which lets you learn SQL step by step. This is a path with almost 130 interactive exercises. It is adjusted to your level. You can easily track your progress. You can count on a hint or support from the SQL community whenever you run into difficulties. You don't need to have any previous experience or dedicated software. All you need to do is to log in and start learning.

SQL Is Everywhere

Because of its versatility, SQL is now used as a standard language to retrieve data in many different data technologies.

SQL is one of the main tools for working with databases. It is not just for relational databases but also for data warehouses and analytical databases where SQL is used. Warehouses collect data from many different sources and store it all in one place. This provides easy access to all the data and allows easy creation of reports. Other databases that use SQL are the modern ones such as cloud, column-store, and in-memory databases.

There are other technologies connected with data processing that use SQL. They include Apache Spark, Apache Flink, and Apache Beam. Also, the Presto project is a distributed SQL query engine for Big Data.

SQL is widely used in everyday life. You find it in spreadsheets (e.g., Microsoft Excel, LibreOffice Calc, Numbers, and Google Sheets). It is also used in smartphone applications and web browsers.

If you are interested in how widely SQL is used, read and see for yourself that "SQL technologies are more common than you think".

SQL is used in many technologies and by many professionals from different fields. SQL is an essential skill for all data practitioners: data analysts, data scientists, programmers, software engineers, and more.

Steps to Learn SQL

If you had any doubts, now you know learning SQL is worthwhile. With these skills, there are many career opportunities ahead of you. So, now let's move on to the topic, and plan your learning path.

Remember it is good to divide the learning content into smaller parts and adjust the level of difficulty to your abilities. This is exactly what online courses give you.

Step 1. Get to Know the SQL Syntax

The syntax is the core of the language. You can start by simply reading about it on the internet or by watching technical YouTube channels. You can also read our article about SQL syntax, where you find important content in one place. If you prefer an old-school approach, reading books and manuals about SQL is a good way to begin.

However, if you want to stick to online learning resources, w3schools, for example, is a reliable one. The basics are explained in simple, clear terms. You can see the examples, and you can try it in a window connected with a database that opens up in your browser.

Another good learning resource for getting to know the SQL syntax is this nicely done basic cheat sheet. You can download a PDF in the format you prefer (A4, A3, letter). Then keep it on your desk or stick it to your fridge so that you can always take a look and review all the basic clauses.

Step 2. Take an Online Course

After getting acquainted with the syntax via websites, articles, and books, it is time to dive deeper into the topic.

I have already mentioned a perfect course for beginners on SQL Basics. It is worth trying for many reasons. You don't have to install anything on your computer. The learning platform only requires access to the internet and a running browser. You also don't have to look for data sets or exercises. Everything is in one place. You learn SQL in this course by writing SQL code to build confidence in your skills. At every step, the program verifies your answers and gives feedback on your query. You know straight away if your solution is correct or not.

There are many other interesting courses available online. You can try and learn with, for example, Coursera, Udemy, or Codecademy courses for beginners. They all give you some basics needed to develop your SQL skills.

Training with online courses is essential when you want to learn SQL for real. It is not just because all the important information is in one place. It is also the best way to stay motivated and learn systematically. Since learning online may get a bit lonely, taking such SQL courses provides the needed support. Moreover, doing the exercises via online training is fun. A variety of exercises and case studies ensure you don't get bored.

Step 3. Practice a Lot

Even with the best teacher and multiple completed courses, you quickly lose what you learn if you don't practice. Learning SQL is like learning a foreign language. You can easily imagine you soon start to forget words without real contact with this language and the opportunity to talk to other people.

Your brain needs to work out to stay in shape. The more you exercise, the better results you achieve. For this reason, plan in your training path to practice regularly after completing the SQL course. The best way is to build a new habit for yourself. It may even be just once a week, but be sure you do it. No excuses!

A great offering of online practice sets helps you here also. Our platform provides many different ways to practice SQL:

  • The SQL Practice track. It contains 5 courses with a total of over 600 exercises. The courses use many different databases, so you practice in many different domains. All practice databases are realistic and based on scenarios that happen in the real world.
  • Monthly SQL Practice. We publish a new set of SQL exercises every month. The SQL Practices in the odd-numbered months (January, March, etc.) are at the intermediate/advanced level. The SQL Practices in the even-numbered months (February, April, etc.) are at the basic level. Each Monthly SQL Practice is a set of 7-15 SQL exercises. Each practice uses 3-5 tables with different data and a different database so that everyone can find something they like.
  • SQL Challenge. Here, you find all the articles on our Monthly SQL Practice. If you are new to our platform, it is a good place to start the exercises so that you don't miss a thing.

Step 4. More Reading Doesn't Hurt

Just as the heading says, reading is always an asset. With every article, example, book, and set of instructions, you get closer to becoming an SQL pro. Just be careful and choose the resources worth your precious time. Look for recommended blogs and books.

We suggest the blog where you find an entire library of articles on almost every SQL topic. You can browse or search for technical topics as well as for softer topics. All are related to SQL. Look for inspiration from personal blogs. For example, try the one by Brent Ozar. Search through Google News or Reddit as a way to find additional information.

When you want a break from your monitor and phone, reach for a book. Of course, learning SQL should focus on practicing. But a solid dose of theory is a good addition to your learning.

Among many interesting books, check out some really valuable ones like SQL For Dummies, Sams Teach Yourself SQL in 10 Minutes, and Practical SQL: A Beginner's Guide to Storytelling with Data. Who knows, you may see SQL from a different perspective. If you are not sure which book to start with, read this list of the best SQL books for 2022, or pick one from our 6 favorite SQL books.

Personalize How You Learn SQL

I hope you now have many tips on efficient ways to learn SQL. Above all, it is important to create your own learning experience in the way that suits you best. No one knows better than you what methods, materials, and resources are most effective for you. Try a few different ones and pick those that help you make good progress. Stick to your plan and see how you become an SQL specialist. Good luck!