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Data-Driven Career Choices: Database Student

Choosing a career is one of the most important decisions you'll ever make. A data-driven career is one of the best ways to secure your future; today's trend is to store and make use of more and more data in every field. In this article, I'll look at some of the choices available.

We're living in an era where the quality and quantity of data is expanding exponentially. In almost any career you choose, you'll need to leverage data to make effective decisions.

Whether or not you choose databases as your study path, you need to build up your skills in this area. Knowing how to access and analyze data puts you ahead of the game, whether you're planning to be an IT professional, a scientific researcher, or a financial wizard.

Most data analysis and management tools use an easy-to-learn common language known as SQL (Structured Query Language.) Learning to find your way around databases using SQL can give you an idea of what a data-driven career involves – and give you a head start as a database student. If you'd like to learn more about SQL and what it's used for, you may be interested in this article.

Before we look at some career paths, it's worth mentioning that offers an SQL Basics course. In it, you'll learn about how data is stored and accessed and how to extract and analyze data from a database. With over 120 interactive exercises, you'll get a feel for databases and have a better idea of what a career in data might involve. This course takes about 10 hours to complete.

If you are a student and you sign up for a free account with your school email address, you will get access to this interactive course for free. wants to support students in achieving their goals. Check out our educational offer.

Why Is Data So Important?

In the last two decades, data has assumed a new importance in almost every walk of life. New and better storage methods allow enormous amounts of data to be stored cheaply. The emergence of Cloud servers means that it's now practical to make huge databases available to decision-makers.

Collection methods have improved and become automated. The Internet of Things (IoT) allows data to be collected by many different devices, such as sensors in the production line, medical devices, and access control systems. Services such as Google Analytics send streams of data to their clients.

All this results in what are known as 'data lakes' – huge reserves of data held by companies, organizations, governments, and other entities.

Data on its own is not much use – it needs to be processed, aggregated, and analyzed to develop information that can be used in decision making. This used to be the province of the IT department, but smart organizations have introduced a policy of data democratization. This means that data is made accessible to anyone who needs it – and it also means that SQL skills have become important in every field of employment.

Here are just a few areas where access to data has become critical in recent years.

  • Business. Smart companies use data analysis skills to understand their customers, spot trends that can help them develop products, fix bottlenecks in their workflow, and cut costs.
  • Research. Medical and scientific research depends on being able to use data collection and analysis effectively.
  • Transport. Railways, airlines, and companies such as Uber constantly need to make informed decisions to keep their operations running smoothly
  • Governments and municipalities need to use data to plan how to most effectively provide services to the public.

The database student has a wide range of careers available. New job titles appear all the time, and not all employers use the same title for the same kind of work. For the purposes of this article, I'm concentrating on job descriptions that appear in the US Bureau of Labor Statistics' annual report. I'll mention a few other job titles to show how they fit in. I'll also include salary ranges taken from the same report.

Data-Driven Career Choices: Database Student

Data-driven careers fall into four main areas. In order to make the vast data lake useful, somebody has to:

  • Manage the data storage.
  • Develop processes to collect data and make it available in a usable form.
  • Analyze the data.
  • Protect the data.

Broadly speaking, then, a data-driven career falls into one of these areas of activity.

Managing Data

There are several different careers in this area.

Database Administrator

If you choose this career path, you'll need a thorough understanding of databases, including how to create them, make changes to the structure, and monitor and tune performance to make sure there are no bottlenecks. You'll be responsible for:

  • Making sure the database design adapts to changing requirements.
  • Ensuring backup and security procedures are in place.
  • Forward planning to make sure enough disk space is available for expansion.
  • Controlling who has access to which areas of the data.

You'll make extensive use of SQL in this career to create, manipulate, monitor, and performance-tune the database.

In last year's salary survey, database administrators earned between US$53K and US$153K annually, with a mean annual wage of US$102K.

Database Architect

This job title is similar to and often overlaps with the role of database engineer. Your job would include designing a database strategy for a large enterprise and setting standards for database-related processes. You’d set performance targets, define how they would be met, and make sure security policies are in place.

A deep understanding of SQL is needed; you'd use it to design the database, create and test prototypes, and set up monitoring procedures.

According to the salary survey, database architects earned between US$74K and US$197K annually, with a mean annual wage of US$136K.

Working as a database administrator is one way of preparing for this role.

Develop Processes

Raw data often needs a lot of processing and manipulating to get it into a usable form. It may originate in many places: web forms, RSS feeds, or output from sensors. All of these must be programmed to work with the data correctly and send the data in the right format to the proper storage area.

Software Developer

Other titles you may encounter in this area are computer programmer, database developer, and software engineer. Although duties and salaries vary, these all refer to a similar career path.

Data-Driven Career Choices: Database Student

You'll need to learn one or more programming languages, and you'll also need to know SQL to be able to communicate with databases. Your job will include designing, coding, and testing the programs needed to process data.

The salary survey shows an annual salary range of US$71K to US$198K for this role, with a mean salary of US$132K.

Analyzing Data

Data analysis forms a part of many different careers. Marketing specialists, business consultants, and researchers in various different fields need skills in this area if they are to make informed decisions. A good understanding of database concepts, SQL, and data visualization tools will help you in almost any career.

Below are two of the many careers you could consider in this area.

Data Scientist

As a data scientist, you'll use SQL, data-oriented programming languages and visualization software. You will develop applications to extract information needed for decision making. Your skills will include techniques such as data mining and data modelling, and you'll need a good understanding of how data is stored.

In the salary survey, the salary range for this job is US$58K to US$174K, with a mean salary of US$115K.

Market Research Analyst

In this career, you'll gather information from many different sources to understand customers, determine the viability of products and services, and plan marketing campaigns.

Your data may come from the company's own data sets, web metrics, Google Analytics, and competitors' public data, so you'll need to understand a wide range of data access techniques. You'll need a good understanding of SQL, database concepts, and visualization and presentation tools.

The salary survey lists the annual salary range as US$38K to US$131K, with a mean salary of US$78K.

Protecting Data

Since data is an extremely valuable asset, organizations need to have procedures in place to protect the data against accidental loss, malicious attacks, unauthorized access, and natural disasters, including robust vulnerability detection mechanisms to address potential weaknesses.

Information Security Analyst

In this job, you'll be responsible for setting up security procedures. You'll need to understand the various types of threats and keep up to date on the latest protection mechanisms. You'll make sure that proper monitoring processes are in place and look at strategies for risk mitigation.

In the salary survey, earnings for this career are in the range of US$66K to US$174K, with a mean salary of US$119K.

What Skills Are Needed for a Data-Driven Career?

Technical Skills

Obviously, the skill set will be different for each of the careers I've mentioned, but the core skills include:

  • A good understanding of databases and data storage techniques.
  • An in-depth knowledge of SQL, since this is the common language for almost all data-related processes.
  • An understanding of data privacy and data security concepts
  • An understanding of how computers work, how they process and store data, and the terminology used.

A degree in computer science, information science, or database management is a good starting point for most of these careers. Alternatively, if you see your future in marketing, you could take a marketing degree that includes a good range of courses in database techniques.

Soft Skills

It's becoming more important for employers to look at a candidate's soft skills as well as their qualifications when evaluating job applications. Employees with the right soft skills will perform better than those who have simply completed the right courses.

Data-Driven Career Choices: Database Student

The kind of soft skills that you need to develop for a data-driven career include:

  • Problem solving. You'll need to be able to work out the best way to use the available data to answer the kind of questions that are important to your organization. One way to hone your skills in this area would be to sign up for LearnSQL's Practice Set, where you'll be given 88 real-world problems to solve using SQL.
  • Listening Skills. In all IT-related jobs, the most important thing is to make sure you fully understand the problem you've been asked to solve. The only way to do this is to learn to listen effectively.
  • Communication Skills. Once you've solved a problem, you need to be able to communicate the solution in different ways: verbally, in writing, and through effective graphics.
  • The days when computer specialists were isolated gurus hidden away in the basement are long gone. These days, you will need to work effectively with your peers and with those above and below you in the company hierarchy.

Data-Driven Careers: The Bottom Line

The role of data in organizations is becoming more important every year. Choosing a data-driven career is a good way to ensure a secure future, because data is not going to just go away. Even if you don't go this route, you'll need a good understanding of how data is collected, stored, and analyzed in almost any career you choose.

You may choose to take a degree in databases or data science, or you may take another degree and supplement your database knowledge with additional courses and reading a good selection of database books.

Learning SQL is a great investment in your future. has a great offer for students – you can take the SQL Basics course for free and get a substantial discount on all the other courses. As a database student, you'll have access to the discounted courses whenever you need more skills and practice in advanced topics. There are some great options, including:

  • SQL A – Z Learning Track: This learning path takes you from SQL beginner to SQL guru.
  • All Forever: This gives you access to all our current and future courses for life. As your career evolves, you'll be able to access any SQL skills you need at any time.

Create your free account now and check out what's on offer.  It could be the beginning of an interesting and rewarding career.