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How to Become an SQL Developer

There is no simple answer to the question “How do you become an SQL developer?” However, if the answer were too complex, there would be no point in writing this article, and yet I’m doing it. So, somewhere along the way, we’ll find the answer.

As said in the intro, there is no magic wand that will turn you into an SQL developer. But reading this article will save you some time and help you focus on what is important to achieve your goal. We’ll first analyze what an SQL developer actually does. This will show what knowledge we need to apply for an SQL developer position.

What Does an SQL Developer Do?

I would call myself an SQL developer (among other titles I could give to myself, but this is not important for this article). My favorite answer to what I do is “I work on the computer.” That scares most people off, but I guess that wouldn’t scare you. So, I’ll be a little more detailed here.

This is what an SQL developer does most of the time:

  • Analytics – An SQL developer job requires writing SELECT queries at varying levels of complexity. This skill is developed over the years when encountering new situations. While most of your queries will be pretty simple, there will be some situations that will require that you give your best and write a SELECT “monster” that will execute in almost no time. Whether your queries are simple or complex, the output is important because it will be used to make business decisions.
  • Database programming – Depending on the organization you work for and your job title, you’ll spend less or more time programming stored procedures, functions, and/or triggers. While they will also include SQL statements (SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE), due to the fact they are actually stored as database objects, this would go under programming.
  • Database design – The last thing you can also expect is that you’ll make changes to the database schema. This will most likely include adding/removing/changing tables and creating relationships.

The previous three bullets are what you can expect most of the time. In larger organizations, you’ll probably be more focused on only one of these three, while in smaller organizations, you’ll probably do all three of them, plus additional tasks like backups.

Besides strictly SQL-related tasks, you can expect that you’ll sometimes need to:

  • Write code in programming languages.
  • Communicate with your team.
  • Gather business requirements from the client, or more generally, talk to people involved in the process.

SQL Developer Job Requirements

So far, we’ve looked at what an SQL developer does. In this section, we’ll look at what is required from an SQL developer. This is the information you’ll usually find in job postings, so I’m guessing you’ve seen at least some of this already.

How to become an SQL Developer
  • BS/MS degree in Computer Science, Engineering, or a related subject – This is usually not required, but it is desirable. Having a degree will show your potential employer that you have enough persistence to finish something that lasts for some time, as well it’s a guarantee that you possess at least some basic knowledge from different IT domains.
  • X years of experience as an SQL Developer or similar role – Okay, this is expected. If you want to work as an SQL Developer, it would be nice if you’ve already worked in this role. This one could be important if you’re applying for a non-junior position.
  • Excellent understanding of SQL programming – We have one more no-brainer. This is a prerequisite for almost any SQL developer position, from junior to senior. You should at least have a good understanding of concepts, but hands-on experience is always more desirable.
  • X years of experience with SQL Server Reporting Services and SQL Server Analysis Services – While this text is specific for SQL-Server-related jobs, working with additional tools specific for some DBMS (database management system, e.g. MySQL, Oracle) is nice to have in most cases. It will be required if that position is almost entirely related to these tools.
  • Excellent understanding of Microsoft SQL Server – This depends on which DBMS system the company uses, but MS SQL Server is a common one. For an SQL developer, if you know how to use one DBMS well, you shouldn’t have any problems switching to another.
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving skills – You’ll find this in almost all IT-related job postings. These two skills are the essence of almost any (IT or non-IT) job that is not just a repetition of the same movements or procedures. (Repetitive jobs will be automated very soon if they haven’t been already, so it’s important to start reasoning critically or otherwise retire.)
  • Team player – self-explanatory.
  • Good time-management skills – self-explanatory.
  • Great interpersonal and communication skills – self-explanatory.

I find the last 3 bullets amusing because this should be a default. Nobody wants an employee that doesn’t know how to organize their work and time, doesn’t know how to communicate, and is judgmental and quarrelsome at the same time.

We’ve listed some formal SQL developer job requirements. Now, I will note a few of my personal observations:

  • You will constantly see titles like “Country X needs to import XXX IT experts.” It’s simple: there is a high demand for IT experts from all domains. The same is true for databases and SQL developers. Since colleges don’t “produce” enough experts, many companies are willing to give a chance to people without (related) formal education but with the knowledge or the desire to learn.
  • For most people, even in IT, being an SQL developer is not “sexy.” Today, it’s “sexy” to be a game developer, work with new technologies, etc. However, there are some weirdos, including myself, that will find fun in it. If you’re well-organized and enjoy hobbies like philately and games like chess, there is a good chance you could be a great SQL developer.
  • Don’t be afraid to apply for the job even if you don’t cover all of the bullets. Most people that apply don’t cover all of them, and that’s okay. It will be difficult to compete with candidates who have the same skills but more experience. Keep up hope though. I got my first full-time job (as an SQL developer) even though a few of the other candidates had more experience. The reason was that I simply gave the impression of a normal person (with a dose of humor). Later they found out the truth :). It also helps if you interviewed after the guy who came in a silver suit and put his legs on the table (that actually happened to me).

SQL Developer Training

Now we know what’s required from an SQL developer. We might not have the (minimal) right skills to apply for the job. No matter how great of a person you are or how many jokes you can tell per minute, you most likely don’t have the magic wand. If you don’t know how to JOIN a few tables to get the right result, the chance of getting the job is almost equal to zero.

You can always try to work without being paid to gain experience. While this is an option, I’m not a fan of unpaid work. So, I would recommend you invest some time in education before you apply for the desired position. After applying, you’ll either get the job or know what you need to improve (always ask for feedback). So, where do you start?

There are a few ways to learn the necessary skills:

  • Reading – If you don’t know a thing about it, I suggest starting with reading. It will probably be frustrating at the beginning because you’ll feel like you can’t understand the simplest thing. It might take a while to understand the basic concepts. And that’s okay. After some time and a lot of reading and googling things you don’t understand, you should get an overall picture of the material. Reading is great because you can stop at any time and easily continue from where you left off. I suggest reading the Vertabelo blog (a place where many contributors share their knowledge, mostly related to data modeling, so you can see many different perspectives and opinions) as well as using the LearnSQL.com library (a place with articles for SQL learners and SQL cookbooks for business professionals). For those who prefer reading books, I recommend the "Sams Teach Yourself SQL in 10 Minutes" by Sam Forta.
  • Watching videos – There are tons of videos online. Give yourself some time, find a good YouTube tutorial that suits you, and learn what experts have to say. This is similar to reading, but it will probably require more focus. It’s probably best to watch videos from start to end without any interruption.
  • Get your hands dirty & try it yourself – The previous two bullets are great, but nothing is better than getting your hands dirty. After you understand what needs to be done, you should write code. Write as much as possible. Try things. Play with the code. The more you explore, the more the theory behind databases will make sense.
  • Courses – This is a step up from getting your hands dirty. Courses are one of the best ways to learn. The reason for this is that somebody actually invested a lot of time into creating the course. Therefore, you will probably get the most out of this approach. Also, you’ll get a certificate after the completion of the course. This is something you could show to a potential employer proving that you possess some skills and that you invested time and money into your professional development. Recruiters love to see that. On the LearnSQL.com platform, there are courses covering different SQL subjects, like SQL fundamentals, how to create reports, or what are the advanced functions of SQL. Apart from learning, there’s also a space to practice SQL.

So, How Do You Become an SQL Developer?

I started with this question, and I’ll end with it. I hope you got the overall idea of what stands between you and the goal of becoming an SQL developer. It’s not an easy path, but it’s doable if you want it and you’re ready to put the effort into it. When you learn the basics and finally get your first job as an SQL developer, you’ll continue to learn more and more each day. But as my granny (she worked as a teacher) loves to say:

We learn during the whole life and still die dumb.

The same is true for being an SQL developer. You’ll never know everything. But if you know the most important things and you handle them well, that’s more than enough. You’ll learn other things along the way when they’re needed.

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