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Is SQL Hard to Learn?

Updated on: May 10, 2024

If you have no IT skills, how hard is it to learn SQL? Will it be too technical for you? Is it worth the effort? And where would you start? In this  article, I will answer those questions.

As an IT consultant and trainer, I've often advised people to learn SQL. And, almost as often the reply has been, "Is it hard to learn SQL? Do I need technical or IT skills to learn it? Is it worth it? How will it help me in my job?"

Yes, as a marketing executive / accountant / business owner / researcher / manager, SQL will definitely help you in your job. Getting the hang of it and relational databases can really boost your skill set, no matter your job. Meaningful information is vital if you're going to make informed decisions, respond quickly to your customers' needs, or spot the trends that will allow you to stay at the top of your field. And no, SQL is not hard to learn.

The next question I'm asked is, "How would I go about learning SQL?". We'll talk more about that later, but the SQL Basics course makes a good starting point. It's perfect for anyone with little or no IT experience – and it's definitely not hard!

What Is SQL?

So what is Structured Query Language, or SQL? It's an English-like programming language that lets you communicate with a database to retrieve and analyze data. It's primarily used to manage and manipulate data in relational databases. By mastering SQL queries, individuals can directly interact with the database to fetch, update, or manipulate data as required for their specific job functions.

Unlike many programming languages, it's declarative rather than procedural. This means that you specify what you want to be done rather than giving complicated instructions on how to do it. You don't have to understand the inner workings of a computer or a database to use SQL.

Scared that without IT experience you won't manage to learn SQL? No worries, my friend Karolina wrote an awesome article just about that.

An SQL command to retrieve total sales by department may look something like this:

SELECT department, 
FROM yearly_sales 
GROUP BY department;

If you understand that command, you can learn SQL easily!

Back when IT was new, retrieving data was a difficult task. You had to establish its exact location on a disk and give instructions to the hardware to retrieve it into memory. Since the advent of SQL, the majority of programming languages don't have to do that. To access data, they just use the universal database language – SQL.

SQL Is for Everyone

Data used to be entirely the province of the IT department. Computers hold masses of facts, i.e. data. Data can be put together in many different ways to answer vital business questions, such as:

  • Which department has the highest sales?
  • Which products offer the best profit margin?
  • What type of customer is most important to our revenue?
  • What have we spent on outside consultants? How are these costs broken down?
is sql hard to learn

When a company needed answers to questions like these, a request had to be made to the IT department to produce the information. Since they often had a backlog of requests, it took time. And there was always the possibility of the requirements being misunderstood and the wrong information being produced.

To solve this, smart companies began to introduce data democratization – the concept that data is for everyone and everyone should have access to it. This trend coincided (or perhaps was hastened by) the invention of SQL – a language that anyone can learn. In a data-driven company, anyone who needs information should be able to access it directly. After all, who better understands the data and how best to analyze it than the person whose job depends on that information?

How Hard Is It to Learn SQL?

Let me introduce you to a few people who have asked me that question.

“Ms. M.” was an overworked assistant to the accountant of a multi-department retailer. Her boss always wanted everything in a hurry. A typical day in Ms. M's life looked something like this:

  • The tax department wanted an exact breakdown of the amount claimed for travelling expenses.
  • Management wanted to know how much profit was made on a given product line.
  • Human resources queried why overtime payments last month were so high.
  • The accountant insisted that the books must be finalized today; the auditors needed them.

I persuaded Ms. M. that learning SQL would let her deal with such queries rapidly, leaving her more time to do her real job – keeping the accounts current. Although she had very little IT knowledge, within a short space of time she was able to access the database and find the answers she needed.

“Mr. C.” was a company director and the IT department had been moved under his jurisdiction. He was over 60 and had not learned much about computers. He was afraid that, at his age, he would not find it easy to learn the technical concepts needed to effectively manage IT resources.

As a starting point in building his skills, he booked an SQL course. However, he was worried that he would not be able to keep up with the class. He asked me, “Is SQL hard to learn?” I reassured him. In fact, he did not find the course hard. Almost immediately, he could use SQL to familiarize himself with exactly what data was stored in the database and how it fitted together. He went on to successfully advise the company on their IT strategy and how to make best use of the available data.

“Ms. E.” worked in the marketing department of an online store. She was never short of innovative ideas for reaching out to potential customers. Unfortunately, she had to rely on reports produced by the IT department to measure the success of each campaign. The information was not produced in a timely manner and it never quite gave her what she needed.

is sql hard to learn

I suggested Ms. E should learn SQL so she could directly gather information and analyze it in different ways. She asked, "Is SQL hard to learn? Will it help me?"

Not only was she soon able to extract her own reports, but she was able to suggest to the IT department what further data could be stored in the system to help her make better decisions.

How Do You Start Learning SQL?

It can be daunting to embark on a new learning experience, especially if you have to juggle it with a busy career or existing study commitments – not to mention home and family obligations. Here’s an article that gives some good tips about how to learn SQL when you have a busy lifestyle.

There are several ways to learn SQL – including physically attending a course, watching YouTube videos, or reading a book. However, books and videos don't give you practical, hands-on experience. And they can’t give you additional help if you need it.

On the other hand, it can be difficult to commit to attending a full-time course. For most busy people, the best way to learn is via an online course that allows them to learn at their own pace and in their own time.

This is exactly what's offered at If you opt for this program, you will work your way through a carefully-designed study program geared to your own particular needs.

If you ever get stuck, you can use the included exercise hints. Or you can use the Discuss tab to ask questions and share insights with other members of the LearnSQL community. You can also ask the course creators for help. They'll be more than happy to point you in the right direction! courses are very hands-on, so you will be able to practice what you learn in a real database environment. And you don't need to install any special software, since everything is done in your browser.

Which Course Should You Choose? has several different learning paths. There are a few questions you need to ask yourself before you make a choice.

  • Do you already work for a company? If so, will your company give you access to their data once you have completed the course?
  • Which database system do you (or your current/preferred company or role) use?
  • What would you like to do at the end of your SQL studies– write simple queries to get access to data? Or make a career of SQL, data analysis, data engineering, etc.?
  • Are you a student who doesn't have access to data or a database but who would like to learn an additional skill?

There are learning paths for each of these situations.

If you simply want to use SQL to access and analyze data, the SQL Basics course is probably your best bet. You don't need any prior IT knowledge to quickly learn how to extract data from one or more tables, group it, and aggregate it in different ways.

is sql hard to learn

If you already know what database you’ll be using, you can look for a course in that dialect. (There are several different SQL dialects, which are named after the database management system that uses them. Popular SQL dialects include MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle, etc. Standard SQL can be adapted to almost any dialect with just a few changes.) provides the same SQL Basics course in the  Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL and PostgreSQL dialects. These dialects are specific to different database management systems, each with unique features that cater to various business needs and technical requirements. Want to know more? Check out What Is a SQL Dialect, and Which one Should You Learn?

Maybe you don't have access to a company's data. Would you like to set up your own database, either for practice or to store your own information? In that case, it's best to go with one of the free databases – either MySQL or PostgreSQL. If you're interested in learning more about the different types of popular databases, you may enjoy this article.

And here are some more recommand articles for you:

If you’d like to set up an SQL training program for your organization, this article will help you.

And if you're a student, don't forget to check out the special offers available just for you.

If you'd like to go further and become an expert, then you should choose our SQL from A to Z learning track. It takes you from absolute beginner through advanced-level topics.

Ultimately, you can go all-in and choose our All Forever Package. This gives you lifetime access to all our courses.

Will Learning SQL Help My Career Path?

SQL can be the first step towards several different interesting and well-paid careers. SQL can help you in the following careers:

The table below is taken from data gathered from, one of the biggest online job markets. It will give you an idea of what some of these people can earn.

Job TitleLow SalaryAverage SalaryHigh Salary
Market Analyst52,77581,336125,354
Data Scientist80,282124,337192,568
Data Analyst49,64977,754121,769

As you can see, learning SQL can definitely pay off – even if you’re not interested in a data or tech job.

So, is SQL hard to learn? Definitely not! Try it for yourself today!