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- 12 minutes read

The Man Behind LearnSQL.com

If it wasn't for this guy, LearnSQL.com would never have been created. He manages the entire company, makes strategic decisions – and talks little about himself. Who is the man behind LearnSQL.com? Meet Vertabelo CEO Jarosław Błąd.

SELECT interests, early_career, advice
FROM Jarek AS the_man_behind_learnsql.com
WHERE answer IS NOT Null AND success IS True;
Jarosław Błąd

If you were to write one sentence about yourself, what would it be?

I think I would say that I am an ordinary, simple guy who really likes what he does.



Good answer! Now, let's go back in time. How did your adventure with computers start?

First, you must realize what the situation was in Poland in the 1980s, when I was growing up. It was the time of Solidarity, Lech Wałęsa, and the slow decay of the Soviet Union. We didn't have access to many things that were becoming commonplace in the western world. As a young man living in the small town of Połaniec, the first time I saw a computer in person was 1986. This computer belonged to my uncle, who worked as an engineer at a nearby power plant. He worked on large industrial mainframes – computers weighing several tons and requiring enormous power. Together with some colleagues, he was part of a group of passionate engineers.

Small 8-bit computers began to appear on the market, mainly due to private imports from Germany. They were mostly Atari, ZX Spectrum, and Commodore. My uncle chose an Atari 65XE. What a machine it was! I could touch it and later even play with it.

Atari

Author: Rept0n1x, source: Wikipedia

It was love at first sight. It was a boundless, unconditional feeling. Computers blew my mind. I decided that I had to have one.

What did your parents say? Did they share your passion?

In those days, computers were really expensive and few could afford them. What's more, you had to buy them in special, expensive stores with imported goods. My father, however, saw my enthusiasm and stubbornness and knew that I wouldn’t give up. To buy me one, he had to take an extra job and save money for almost a year. He eventually got the required amount, which as I remember was $125. I was very grateful for that. That's how I became the owner of the most wonderful thing in the world: a computer.

code

As a young man, you probably mainly played video games?

My uncle and his colleagues organized classes to teach young people programming. (This was before I had my own computer.) A dozen or so teens took the class. Most preferred games, but I became interested in coding.

Classes were held once a week. On the other days, I thought of various "advanced" programs – like one that calculated the area of a triangle. I wrote my ideas on paper. Later I showed it to my teachers and together we tested the operation of my code.

My understanding of programming accelerated when I had a computer at home. I remember coming home from school and immediately sitting down at my computer. Unfortunately, I lacked learning materials. Today, in the age of the internet, it's hard to imagine that.

Then, computer magazines were just beginning to appear on newsstands. I read everything the library had on computers. I also bought books, although there were very few of them. It didn't matter what programming language or technology it was. I absorbed everything and tried to use it on my precious Atari. Unfortunately, it didn't work in most cases.

Did you already know that you’d become a programmer?

Jarosław Błąd

I have always tried various engineering disciplines. I was interested in carpentry, mechanics, and electronics. But unfortunately it was difficult to get materials and tools in Poland at that time. Programming, which did not require any additional things besides knowledge and a brain, gave almost unlimited scope for experimentation. It required only time, of which I had a lot. I was playing with Basic XL back then. I used it to write several hundred programs, most of which were useless. But I had so much fun. If I heard a new idea or read in the newspaper that something could be done, I immediately tried to copy it.

So something must have resulted from your efforts?

My biggest, if you can say that at all, work on Atari was a game titled "Stock Broker II". It gained some popularity. And even in the pre-internet era, people somehow copied and shared it. It was really cool. When the 90s began, I started earning money on programming. Later, more business came and that's how I got to where I am today.

Jarosław Błąd

As an engineer, you know many programming languages and technologies. Why did you bet on SQL?

For most of the 90s, I worked on creating various business applications. These ranged from very simple (such as invoicing support) to very large ERP class systems. A common feature all shared was the need to work on data. In particular, there was a need to extract various sections and reports. Relational databases were already well-known at that time, but working with them using application programming languages (BASIC, Pascal, C ++) was real torture. For me, the discovery of SQL was then a revelation. Overnight, most data-related work, especially reporting, became so easy.

Jarosław Błąd

Is this some magic feature of SQL?

The power of SQL comes from a completely different approach to data handling. SQL is a declarative language: you only need to say what you want to get. We don't have to worry about how to do it. The machine does most of the work for us.

SQL syntax is similar to natural language, which makes using it even easier. All this means that SQL is available not only to engineers, but above all to regular business users. It is very easy to learn. All you need is a few hours to master the basics and you will be able to perform real actions on your data. This cannot be said for other languages, which require months of study. Today – when the amount of data and its processing intensity has reached a scale that used to be difficult to imagine – SQL has simply become something you must know.

You were one of creators of Vertabelo Academy, which offered some SQL courses. Why did you decide to launch LearnSQL.com?

It was a natural continuation of our work at Vertabelo Academy. The topic of SQL is so huge that it deserves a dedicated educational platform. That's why we created LearnSQL.com.

SQL courses have been crucial for the success of our entire platform. We developed Vertabelo Academy as encompassing a lot of data science, e.g. our courses on Python, R, statistics, and data visualization. At the same time, we were expanding our SQL paths. We were constantly observing and analyzing the e-learning market and talking with platform users about their needs and motivations. They wanted to learn SQL or its dialects like MS SQL Server or PostgreSQL. They wanted various other SQL applications that go beyond data science. So, we made LearnSQL.com.

What can you learn at LearnSQL.com?

Our offer is addressed to everyone, regardless of their level of IT experience. Users can study individual courses and/or choose specially designed paths and tracks. I especially recommend the second method, because tracks contain carefully selected teaching material that’s presented in logical order.

For beginners, I recommend the SQL Fundamentals track. After completing it, you'll be able to do a lot. Once you’re comfortable with the fundamentals, using our SQL Practice track is a good way to practise your skills. For people who want to really spread their SQL wings, we designed the SQL from A to Z path. It covers the basics, but it also gives you the chance to learn some advanced SQL features.

Finally, we also have courses for professionals who use SQL on a daily basis but may not be using it to its full potential. The Window Functions and Recursive Queries courses are a perfect introduction to the true power of modern SQL.

We’ve also started working on a Data Engineering learning path. This is our project for the coming months.

Is learning SQL expensive?

Compared to other technical courses, learning SQL is not expensive. Of course, it all depends on the individual learner. If someone only needs to get the basics or delve into one particular topic, the optimal solution is to buy a monthly subscription for $39. On the other hand, if the goal is to understand the whole of SQL, they’ll be spending some months on the platform. In that case, the best choice is the six-month subscription, which costs $29 per month. We recommend this option for most students, as you get the best learning outcomes when you don’t overdo your learning intensity.

LearnSQL.com

Plus, the money you spend on our courses will pay off when you get a pay raise or do your first freelance SQL projects.

LearnSQL.com is more than just courses. What else can you find there?

I am very proud of our blog. Several times a week, we publish guides and technical or lifestyle articles. We are writing about SQL and I think you can see that we like it. We have a lot of readers who appreciate our work.

I also like our Monthly Challenge. These are tasks that our users solve in the form of a competition. There is always a large dose of SQL exercises that are based on real-life examples.

There’s also the SQL Cookbook on our platform. It contains a lot of quick articles demonstrating solutions you can use in real-world SQL projects.

We Learn SQL - YouTube

It is also worth mentioning our Facebook group, We Learn SQL, and our new YouTube channel, also called We Learn SQL.

And we are constantly crafting further resources, like SQL Cheat Sheets or others that I can’t talk about at the moment because we are still working on them!

How do users rate LearnSQL.com?

We receive a lot of positive feedback from users. First of all, they appreciate the high quality of our courses. They like the fact that courses are mainly practice, not just a lot of theory. It is why users acquire new skills much faster.

Because LearnSQL.com is derived directly from Vertabelo Academy, we’ve used the experience accumulated there over several years, both in terms of course content and the teaching process itself. Of course, the platform is constantly evolving and sometimes there are minor errors or inconveniences. But we try to react quickly and fix them. We also listen carefully to our users because they know what they really need.

Are companies also using your platform?

We have a dedicated solution (our business subscription plan) for companies. It enables them to manage the learning process for their employees, e.g. managers can track employees’ learning progress.

Some companies have us create customized courses tailored for their needs. Exercises can even be based on the data structures they use. For example, we’ve created courses for Uber that allowed their employees to learn SQL on the same tables and databases they’d later encounter in their daily work. Thanks to this, onboarding new Uber employees took much less time. We’ve trained over 20,000 Uber workers worldwide now.

What kind of boss are you? What do you expect from your employees?

LearnSQL Team

You must ask my colleagues about that. I like to tell people what I mean directly and I expect the same from others. I'd rather hear the difficult truth than listen to what people think I want to hear.

At first, many people have a problem with this. There’s some resistance to this level of honesty, especially in the context of the office hierarchy. Over time, however, they shift to my way of thinking. It's just easier to work that way. Many people think that the boss should know best because he has more experience and access to full information. Actually, reality looks completely different. The higher you are in the organization, the less you know about a particular topic. Although the overall picture is more complete, the details are lost. It's like watching a city from a distance and trying to describe a particular house.

This approach requires a lot of trust and mutual respect, which cannot be built by micromanagement or hard tactics. It’s been said that trust will be the currency of the future. It's a bit metaphorical, but I agree with that statement.

So how do you choose employees?

When I assess job candidates, I want to see passion for what they do. Such a person should love what they do. Without that, work becomes routine and this is a short trip to stagnation. I also try to hire people who are not afraid of challenges and taking responsibility.

Jarosław Błąd

Where do you get the strength for all this?

I have what I call an ‘engineering approach to reality’. My basic motivation is to build something and then see it works well. This applies to a piece of code as well as to much more complex things – such as the design of our platform, building our team, and the functioning of the entire company.

In the context of LearnSQL.com and the other services we offer, the most important thing for me is positive feedback from users. If they are happy, then I have everything an ordinary engineer could want.

Sometimes, of course, I run out of strength. Then I just have to cut myself off. Everyone must find a way to relax. For me, it is running my small fruit farm. Caring for 2,000 trees requires a lot of physical work. It’s often repetitive, but it takes a different type of concentration, where thinking about professional work simply has no place.

You help others learn. Have you learned anything exciting lately?

From Good to Great by Jim Collins

I'm quite addicted to learning. I usually read two or three books at once. At least one or two will be about professional issues. The other book is pure entertainment – usually something science fiction, which I love. I love Stanisław Lem and Philip K. Dick.

Recently, I’ve been reading books on marketing. The latest are Hacking Growth by Morgan Brown and Sean Ellis and The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Scott. I read and then try to adapt some concepts for the company.

My favorite business book is From Good to Great by Jim Collins. Every time I read it, I find something new. I also like to read interviews with the world's best entrepreneurs and try to follow their blogs. Unfortunately, my favorite blogger, Stack Overflow founder Joel Spolsky, practically stopped posting a few years ago. I learned a lot from him about engineering, management and building a company. Most of his articles are still valid and worth reading.

Do you have a message for young engineers and programmers who might want to follow in your footsteps?

Remember, there are no simple walkthroughs. There are no magic shortcuts. Of course, there are general rules, but reality changes too quickly to stick to them. Do you want to succeed? Read, learn, and work hard. You will achieve everything!

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