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Is it Difficult to Learn SQL?

It’s the number one question asked by the students of SQL and those new to the IT world. Is it difficult to learn SQL? If you came here because you’ve been pondering that very same question, take some comfort in the fact that in no way are you alone. Even the idea of SQL can be intimidating to those of us without a tech background, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

To answer your question right up front and center, the answer is a resounding no. Learning SQL is not difficult, even for those who generally consider the world of computer science light years away from their comfort zone.

Don’t believe me? That’s OK! I’ve rustled up a little more information to prove that it really isn’t all that hard to learn SQL. Read on if you want to find out how learning SQL could be an easy and profitable boost to your career.

What Is SQL?

If you suspect that SQL is difficult to learn, the first thing you should be pinning down is a crash course on exactly what SQL is all about. By giving yourself a good overview of SQL, you’ll demystify the whole thing, and suddenly learning SQL won’t seem so greatly difficult after all.

First things first—let’s look at the name.

SQL stands for “Structured Query Language,” and you’ll hear it pronounced both “S-Q-L” and “sequel.” Users of Structured Query Language work with a special syntax to form queries and retrieve information from databases. Think of SQL as something similar to asking for a raise at your job. You’ve got to pick the right sort of language to articulate your request, you’ll need to submit it to the right person or the right place, and in return you will—fingers crossed—get the result you’ve asked for!

Raise

SQL is a language that helps software developers, database developers, database administrators, and many others, retrieve and edit data and is used in an incredibly wide variety of industries.

You do not need to commit to a career in SQL to learn and use SQL in your work. This language is used not only by dedicated SQL database administrators and similar experts, but also by marketers, scientists, and even hobby data fans. There’s a huge range of jobs for which a little SQL knowledge can significantly improve performance.

Thanks to its intuitive English-based syntax, SQL is very easy to grasp. If you think SQL is difficult, that’s probably because you haven’t learned it yet!

If you’re already fed up with me telling you how easy SQL is to learn and are ready to get into it, check out this SQL Basics course for a great introduction. It really has everything you need to get off the ground running.

You can also watch an episode from our We Learn SQL series about what SQL is.

Why Learn SQL?

Even if you’re not a tech natural, there are so many compelling reasons to get over your mental block about SQL’s difficulty.

Here’s a big one. Data isn’t just the future; it is NOW. Data analytics are no longer the exclusive stomping ground of big corporations. A huge number of companies, both large and small, are using data to drive their business strategies. Data influences markets, governments, businesses—heck, even love! Upskilling in the data-related space will never, ever be a bad idea.

Because of the central role of data in so many industries and areas of our lives, more and more companies are looking for SQL-savvy staff. Even marketing departments, traditionally more about art than science, are increasingly looking for SQL skills. If you know SQL, you’ll have an edge in many, many job interviews.

Paid work aside, SQL skills are always useful to have under your belt, even if you don’t plan to use SQL in your career. Whether you enjoy organizing or exploring databases, or just want to help your brain stay fit by learning new things, SQL will make your synapses nimble and keep you up to speed with the data world.

SQL Is Not a Secret Language

That's my lingo'

To the not-so-technical among us, programming languages and other aspects of the IT world can seem like super-awesome secret spy tricks at best, jibber jabber at worst.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Some of us are wordsmiths, others are mathematicians. Some of us feel most alive walking a tightrope across a canyon; the rest of us are more Netflix-and-pizza kind of people.

Even if you’re “not a math person” or “not a tech geek,” there’s still no need to fear that SQL is out of your grasp. SQL is not a mathematical language like Matlab or SPSS. SQL, put simply, is the English language, used in a specific way to retrieve information from databases.

At the foundational level, those commands could not be easier. Learn how to SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE in SQL, and you will be 70% towards SQL capability. That’s not bad for learning four simple words!

Can’t believe it’s so straightforward? Here’s a little example.

Let’s say this is a real table in a database—we’ll call it Employees. It holds basic information about the staff of a given company:

EMPLOYEE_IDFIRST_NAMELAST_NAMECONTRACTDOB
1JohnSilverFULL88-08-15
2JennyJeffriesPART73-05-25
3GeorgeHooverFULL68-01-03

A simple SELECT statement would look like this:

SELECT * FROM Employees

(In SQL, * means “select all columns”; in this instance, the statement would show all columns in our Employees table.)

To get more specific results, we’d use the WHERE clause. This helps specify exactly what data we want to see. If we want to know which employees are working full time, for example, we could run the following query:

SELECT * FROM Employees
WHERE Contract = 'Full'

Learn SELECT and WHERE (that wasn’t too tricky, was it?), and you’ve already made great strides towards understanding SQL. Add to those simple commands the following trio: INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE, and you’ll be on a roll!

INSERT helps you to add single or multiple rows to a table with a statement that looks like this:

INSERT INTO tableName (column1, column2, …)
VALUES (value1, value2, …)

UPDATE lets you alter column values for single or multiple rows and follows this structure:

UPDATE tableName
SET column1=value1, column2=value2,...
WHERE filterColumn=filterValue

DELETE removes single or multiple rows from your table. Often there is no going back from a DELETE, so be sure of what you’re doing first, or use a test database! A DELETE statement goes like this:

DELETE tableName
WHERE  filterColumn=filterValue;

Once you’ve added INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE to SELECT and WHERE, you’ll be able to move on to SQL joins. Joins connect different tables so you can analyze the data together.

There are a few different types of JOIN in SQL, but the basic structure looks like this:

SELECT Columns
 FROM Table1
JOIN Table2 ON Table1.Column = Table2.Column

With me so far?

If you’re not, don’t fret. Some clever course developers have come up with a great way of teaching these basics, so don’t let yourself get muddled here. Head over to the SQL Basics course and learn SQL the right way!

Even Advanced SQL Can Be Mastered Easily

Perhaps you’re starting to believe that it is indeed within the realms of possibility that you, yes YOU, might be able to pick up the SQL basics. But how difficult is it to learn more advanced SQL? Could you level up to Expert status?

Well, grasshopper, without hopping too far ahead of ourselves, that is also absolutely achievable. Advanced SQL is in a slightly different league from the SQL basics, but if you enjoyed your beginner course, there is no reason why you shouldn’t take your studies to the next level.

The great thing about LearnSQL.com’s Advanced SQL course is that it takes you gently from the basics to more difficult aspects of SQL, such as window functions, GROUP BY extensions, and recursive queries.

Don’t know what those things are? That’s absolutely fine, because the course holds your hand through it all—making the jump from beginner to advanced SQL student will seem as easy as pie.

SQL meme

You CAN Get a job in SQL

You might be here because you’re looking for a new job and many opportunities seem to require SQL knowledge. Wondering if you can get up to speed quickly enough to add SQL to your resume?

Long answer short, ABSOLUTELY, YOU CAN!

SQL is a fantastic conduit for a career change. With some SQL experience under your belt, you can confidently apply for roles such as:

  • SQL Developer: Develops SQL databases and writes SQL queries to test and optimize functionality.
  • Data Scientist: Uses technology solutions to create statistical and predictive models with
  • Database Administrator: Manages databases so they work efficiently and reliably.
  • Data Modeler: Systems analysts who focus on issues like reducing redundancy of data and improving ease of transfer between systems.
  • Database Tester: Finds bugs and badly written code to make sure the database runs smoothly.
  • Data Analyst: Analyzes data and develops strategies to guide the business decisions of the managers.
  • Business/Financial Data Analyst: Uses data to improve or project the company’s profits, losses, and financial risks.
  • Marketer: Uses SQL to retrieve data for more targeted and effective advertising campaigns.
  • Business Owner: Uses SQL to better understand customers and business demand to improve business strategy.
  • And many, many more!

Many people pick up SQL in just a couple of weeks. Heck, you can nail the basics in one big 48-hour study sesh if you are really motivated (and are a fan of coffee-fueled course binges!).

So, how to Learn SQL?

Learning SQL is easy. Figuring out where to start is the hard part. There’s a lot of competing information out there, and much of it is not exactly conducive to clarity and comprehension. To help you set out on your journey, here’s my to-do list for anyone wanting to learn SQL quickly, easily, and efficiently. Stick it on your refrigerator. (Spoiler alert: It’s not long!)

1) Take a course.

Seriously. Take one, right now. No more excuses, no more trepidation. Worst case scenario? You’ll decide you’d rather be a zookeeper. Best case scenario? You’ll realize it wasn’t hard after all, and you’ll walk away with a new skill for your professional or personal use. Learning on your own is all very well, but a good course is going to get you where you need to be 100x faster. You also won’t risk learning bad habits from “experts” on forums!

I recommend starting with this basics course. It’s filled with step-by-step explanations for creating basic SQL queries. It also gives you a great insight into the world of databases and how to find your way around them.

2) Practice, practice, practice!

Done the course? Bravo! Now is a great time to practice your newfound skills. There’s a huge variety of ways to practice SQL, many of them good fun. I’ve written a more comprehensive guide to this particular topic over in this article, but here are a few examples to get you in the mood:

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  • Head to SQL FIDDLE if you’re all hooked up with the basics and ready to play around with what you know. This is a free site that lets you test queries and link them to others if you’re looking for a little collab or help.
  • SQLZOO is another free website to help SQL newcomers find their feet and practice some queries. Filled with tests and tutorials, it’s a perfect place to cement your newfound SQL knowledge.
  • CODING GROUND is a must-have in your SQL toolkit. It offers an easy online coding environment for all the most popular languages and technologies. Setting up new environments can be a steep learning curve, so Coding Ground is a shiny gold nugget you’ll want to keep firmly in your pocket.

Is Learning SQL Difficult? Not at all!

I once called a product hotline because I couldn’t figure out how to open my ketchup bottle. If I can learn SQL, so can you. Is SQL difficult? Of course it is. Everything is difficult until you learn how to do it. When we are babies learning to walk, walking is hard. We make a few mistakes and stumble a few times, but we’re off like a shot before very long, and there’s no holding us back.

Your potential for SQL expertise is exactly the same. Right now, it may all be a bit intimidating. From the outside, you might think it is too difficult. But that’s just the gap in your knowledge talking. Learn, and then you’ll know. Learn, and then it will be easy.

That’s it.

So get your head in an SQL course today, cos “it’s difficult” ain’t a valid excuse no more!

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