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Want to Work With Data? Learn SQL!

Are you looking for a database job? How are things working out? If you don't know what to do, I suggest you start by learning SQL. Here’s why.

In this article, I’ll explain how you can succeed at finding a database job. If you are tired of your current job and fed up with your boss (who hasn't given you a raise in years), read on. Stay with me too if one more stupid Zoom call will make you scream. You need a change!

What Does It Mean to Work With Data?

If you want to boost your career and find a job that will be interesting and well paid, entering the IT world is a good idea. Almost every study indicates a huge need for specialists in various areas of this industry. The world is just waiting for developers, analysts, and administrators. Why not be one of them?

Most of our activities these days are related to the use of data. Do you shop online, use Uber, have an exercise app, or arrange deliveries for your store? Each of these activities uses data that can be stored in relational databases. The basic language for working with this type of database is SQL, or Structured Query Language.

I have been observing the labor market for a long time and I think it’s really worth betting on data industries (e.g. data analysis or data engineering). These areas practically guarantee employment; there is a huge shortage of professionals.

Not sure what particular area to choose? Check out the article Types of Database Jobs: Choose One of Them and Start Being Awesome. There you will find information on various positions along with their average salaries and general responsibilities. But this is just the tip of the iceberg; there are many more data-related jobs available. And they all have one common requirement – you should know SQL!

However, you don't have to completely rebuild your career to use SQL, either. Suppose you work in marketing. SQL can help you better understand the data collected from your company's customers during promotions or marketing campaigns. Perhaps you’ll find patterns and trends that will help you prepare better strategies in the future.

In any job role, basing your decisions on real data instead of intuition is always helpful. Believe me, it is much more convenient to work with a solid foundation of data!

Landing a Database Job: A Step-by-Step Guide

If your actions are to be successful, you need to structure them. You need an action plan. It is the same as going shopping; if you enter the supermarket without a list, you’ll most likely come out with unnecessary products such as a giant jar of Nutella, a lawnmower, or a tenth scented candle – but without bread and eggs. I know this from my own experience.

Here are some steps to help your job hunt succeed.

1.   Set a Goal

Every trip should have a designated destination. If you have decided that you want to become a data analyst or data engineer, you need to detail this vision.

How to land job in data

There is nothing more motivating than dreaming about a job that will give you interesting things to do and a good check. But it’s not usually possible to reach for that pot of gold all at once; you have to divide your journey into short stages.

Set a deadline to learn the necessary skills, then determine how much time you need for an internship or additional apprenticeship. How long will it take you to be ready for a junior-level job? When can you see yourself as an expert? It's important to create a timeline. A sketch is fine, but you need to have something to come back to when you’re temporarily lacking in motivation.

2.   Find Out What Skills You Need

You will need different skills depending on which career path you choose. Working with data, you should definitely learn SQL. It is obligatory for many activities and very helpful in others. If you’re interested in data analysis, SQL is a must-have.

Alternatively, many people choose the data science path. In that case, you should also add Python to your arsenal. You can learn about this popular programming language with our sister site’s Python Basics course. This great interactive course will teach you the basics of programming.

Certainly, you will also need other skills: presentation skills, public speaking, and project management are all important. I’d recommend looking for suitable online courses on platforms like EdX, Udemy, or Coursera. You can learn almost anything on the Internet.

3.   Choose the Best Way to Learn SQL

There are a ton of great resources for learning SQL. However, not all of them guarantee quick and effective learning. It is much easier to learn a new skill from an interactive course than, for example, by watching many hours of tutorials on YouTube. I don't know about you, but after a few minutes, I’m falling asleep – no way would I acquire any knowledge then.

You can reach for a book; there are many great ones, as I listed in my subjective SQL book review. You can also find our latest reading list here. However, don’t forget about the essential element of the learning process: practice. If you read dozens of books but never actually write any SQL queries, you won't be able to do anything. Practice is the basis for real mastery, and you will find chances to practice in online courses.

Which online SQL course should you choose? If you ask me, I’d recommend starting with the SQL Basics course on LearnSQL.com. However, you may think that I’m biased, so I also recommend my friend Arleta's review of the 5 best online SQL courses for beginners.

4.   Learn and Grow!

Once you've chosen your course, it's time to act. Remember not to attack everything right away or you will get lost in the SQL jungle. You have to be methodical. Many people make mistakes and get discouraged quickly. See how to avoid such problems and make progress.

How to land job in data

When I started my adventure with SQL, I learned while still keeping up with my regular full-time work and taking care of my home and son. You can do it; read my article Learning SQL When You Work and Have a Family for some tips.

If you want to be up to date and keep digging deeper into SQL, start reading industry portals and blogs. Subscribe to channels and learn from expert lectures. You can also bet on podcasts. Listen and learn about databases while driving, cleaning, or walking. Every small step can bring you closer to your goal. If you don't remember what that was, go back to point 1!

5.   Look for a Job

SQL jobs can be found everywhere. Here are the most common places where to look:

  • Online platforms like Indeed, Google Jobs, etc.
  • Social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter.
  • Industry conferences and networking groups. (These may be limited to online/virtual meetups in the pandemic era.)
  • Your current company – ask your boss if he needs you to analyze the data. Perhaps he is paying large sums of money to an outside company. If you’re not sure how to handle this conversation, read up on How to Convince Your Boss That You Need to Start Learning SQL
  • Freelance jobs and side gigs, which you can find on job sites or on specific platforms like Upwork.

For more ideas, check out my guide to Websites That Will Help You Find the Perfect SQL Job.

Of course, you have to narrow down your search area. Choose your city or region, degree of advancement, and expected salary. Don't be too picky at first; you won’t have to keep the same job for a lifetime. First find a place where you can learn a lot and gain experience, even if it means a lower salary.

Some even opt for internships. If you can afford it, it's a great situation – the company teaches you everything you need to know and will almost certainly hire you in the end. Why would they waste time and resources otherwise?

Many websites give future employees the opportunity to read reviews by current and former employees of a given company. See what the atmosphere is like at each company you’re considering; is it a place for less experienced people? During a coffee break, will you find yourself in the middle of an office war? Or is it a quiet and nice place where you will feel at ease? All these details are important. After all, they are part of your career building and your change.

Also, consider the freelance option. Knowing SQL doesn't have to be associated with just one company. Freelance requires a slightly different approach, however. You have to search for clients, market your services, etc. In the era of remote work, many people choose this path. Read more about How to Find Freelance SQL Jobs.

6.   Prepare for A Job Interview

You’ve received a call from a prospective employer or an email with a link to a Zoom or Google Meet interview. Your career may depend on this job interview. Don’t panic, just prepare well.

It’s a good idea to review your SQL beforehand. The easiest way to do this is with our SQL Practice Set course. This interactive course will test your basic SQL knowledge, everything from the simplest queries with SELECT to complex subqueries.

My colleague Rebecca wrote a great guide on what you need before your first SQL job interview. Think of it as a kind of checklist.

How to land job in data

We also have a few articles on our blog that cover questions you might hear when interviewing for a database-related job – they’ll help you avoid surprises during the interview:

When it comes time to interview, remember your appearance. If you can, find out in advance what dress code the company follows. Although your Ironman T-shirt is cool and you feel great in it, it might be worth wearing something more elegant. After all, you only make a first impression once.

7.   Don't Stop Here!

Landing your dream job is just the beginning of your adventure with SQL. You need to constantly develop your skills. Whoever stops falls behind. Try to get better and learn something every day. Watch your new colleagues at work – learn from their ways of tackling difficult issues and tasks.

If you applied for a junior position, you should think about further promotions. What will you need? Lots of practice and knowledge of advanced SQL. Where can you get it? I recommend our Advanced SQL track, where you’ll discover CTEs, window functions, and GROUP BY extensions. This is the learning path that will lead you to be an SQL expert. Do you want to know what this road looks like? Then read Timothy's article How Much SQL Practice Do You Need to Become a Pro? Set your goals and strive to achieve them!

What’s Next in Your Database Journey?

Now you know how to land an SQL job. Your first step, of course, is learning SQL. If you’re not sure this is the career for you, maybe seeing what a typical SQL developer’s day looks like will answer this question.

You may want to start working on your own database projects to get some more SQL experience. Our guides on installing and setting up MS SQL Server and PostgreSQL will come in handy. We can also help you choose the best IDE for writing SQL queries.

Now it's up to you how far you go!

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