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Is There any Demand for SQL Language Nowadays?

SQL is 46 years old. That’s 14 years older than I am, and at least 23 years older than the jar of pickles in my refrigerator. SQL is the still-hip granddaddy of the programming world. You know the one: non-ironic suspenders, twirled mustache, tattoo peeking out over his spotted socks. He may be old, but boy, is he fly. If you’ve heard of the NoSQL movement, you may be wondering: why learn SQL in this day and age? The great news is there are a huge number of jobs that use SQL and literally hundreds of thousands of employers out there RIGHT NOW looking for people with SQL skills.

If SQL was your grandad. via GIPHY

In a world where technology can be outdated before developers have even released it, SQL is a stalwart, and for a good reason. There’s significant maturity and sophistication that comes with age and experience, and SQL has that in spades.

Not convinced? Ask yourself:

Why is the English language still used?

Why do people still wear socks?

Why do you still choose to live in a house?

The answer to all three questions is simple. English, socks, and houses continue to serve a large number of people in an effective and efficient way. English has been around for about 1500 years (give or take), and has endured, developed, and grown in popularity thanks to its solid foundation as a relatively standardized language.

Likewise, people still wear socks and live in houses, because those two things have been improved and refined over many centuries, and because they continue to serve important functions. Until some kind of magical foot-warming spray and expandable floating home pods replace the functionalities of socks and houses, well—they’re going to be sticking around. There’s demand for them, just like there is still overwhelming demand for SQL.

SQL is useful now just as it was 46 years ago. And despite the efforts of the NoSQL brigade to imagine a world without SQL, it is still around and more in demand than ever before.

In this article, we cover just how much demand still exists for SQL and why adding it to your toolbelt is the best thing you can do for your career.

Why Is SQL Still so Popular?

The 2020 Stack Overflow Developer Survey is out now and, lo and behold, SQL has emerged triumphant as the third most commonly used language by both professional developers and hobby coders alike.

Stack Overflow Most Used Programming, Scripting and Markup Languages

Stack Overflow 2020 Developer Survey

Graph: Stack Overflow 2020 Developer Survey (graph truncated)

That’s a lot of people out there using the language, and let me tell you this, folks—they’re not learning SQL just for kicks and giggles. There’s huge demand among employers for staff who can find their way around a database. As the world of data goes from strength to strength, there’s more need than ever before for people who can wrangle that information in meaningful ways.

Why learn SQL? Here are the top 10 reasons:

1. It’s the Industry Standard.

If you learn just one data querying language, chances are it’s going to be SQL. SQL is common, and that commonality is counted on by companies across the board who are searching for new data staff. Hiring companies love SQL, because its ubiquity makes it easy to find a huge pool of potential talent. It’s also good for their bottom lines, because it eliminates the need for expensive training on niche coding languages.

2. It’s Semantically Mature.

“Old” doesn’t automatically mean “old-fashioned.” SQL has been around for nearly five decades, so it has really had a chance to “find itself” over the years. As a result, SQL is semantically very mature and can deal with any operation you might want to complete within a database.

3. It’s a Living Language.

SQL continues to grow and develop even as new-kid-on-the-block technologies show up in the neighborhood. SQL is constantly refreshing to stay current and to work with new technologies as they come and go. Because it is so widely known, there are an enormous number of books, tutorials, training courses, code libraries, and other resources available to users. Also, the Data Management and Interchange Committee of the International Organization for Standardization works to help SQL reap the benefits of its standardization.

4. It’s Simple and Effective.

SQL is an easy and intuitive language, which makes it attractive to users and employers alike. If you understand even a few basic SQL queries, then you can already make yourself useful in a database-related role. Of course, there are plenty of advanced operations to learn, but the learning curve for its basics isn’t very steep. Because SQL doesn’t try to overcomplicate things, it’s also extremely effective.

5. It’s Open Source.

SQL code is freely available. It can easily be accessed, modified, and redistributed by its users. What's more, many of the popular SQL solutions that allow you to work with databases are also free and open source—for example MySQL or PostgreSQL.

6. It’s Secure.

SQL performs better in terms of security than NoSQL database systems like MongoDB.

7. It’s Extensible.

SQL standardization means that users can support “levels” of SQL and can pick and choose features to customize their experience. SQL is also supportive of users’ own custom-built enhancements.

8. It’s Logically Founded Upon Relational Theory.

SQL and relational databases go together like biscuits and gravy. Relational databases are built on relational algebra and tuple relational calculus, which are also the foundations of SQL. This makes SQL a highly logical language for working with databases, and that logic = clarity and simplicity.

9. It’s Useful Everywhere.

SQL is used in every industry and every profession you can possibly think of. Where you find data, you can find people using SQL. Its popularity only continues to drive its demand among employers.

10. Nobody Has Come up With a Better Database Language.

It’s as simple as that. Some have tried, but SQL remains popular and in demand for a reason. It works.

Not convinced by these ten points? Stack Overflow’s survey has the figures to prove it. SQL technologies all sit at the top of the pack, above any other type of database management system.

Stack Overflow Most Popular Database Technologies

Stack Overflow 2020 Developer Survey

Graph: Stack Overflow 2020 Developer Survey

Jobs That Use SQL (Spoiler: It’s Most of the Jobs)

Right now, there are nearly 370,000 SQL jobs and SQL-related jobs open worldwide on LinkedIn. That’s just on one job platform. It shows a whole lot of demand for SQL skills and a whole lot of career opportunities thanks to SQL!

Most organizations make use of data, be it financial information, market insights, customer segmentation, or client records. Where there is data, there are databases, and where there are databases, there is usually a need for SQL and people who can use it.

Database-related jobs are abundant in today’s market, and the number of employers looking for staff with SQL skills is only continuing to grow. People across a vast spectrum of skill sets, technology stacks, and operating systems use SQL in their day-to-day work. Here are a few examples of SQL jobs.

1. Data Analyst

Data analysis is an obvious career path for those with SQL skills. If it’s a career you would like to get into, you will definitely want to start learning SQL as soon as possible. Data analysts are generally skilled at discovering patterns and trends in large quantities of data. They have excellent understanding of mathematics, algorithms, and statistics.

2. Database Developer

Database developers are programmers with a particular focus on databases, using SQL as their primary working language. They write and improve SQL code, stored procedures, indexes, and triggers. Advanced SQL skills are fundamental to working in a database developer role.

3. Database Administrator

Database administrators are like the supervisors of the database world. They are tasked with ensuring stability, security, and safety of their databases. They are in charge of a range of duties, including assigning access and privileges to users and looking after the hardware that supports databases.

4. Data Scientist

Data Scientists take data and make it meaningful. They extract raw data from databases, often using SQL, then transform it into valuable insights that inform their company’s decision-making. Data scientists make use of both business and data expertise to refine, analyze, and apply data to business problems and solutions.

5. Data Modeler

Data modelers determine the structures and the organization of databases. They take the data needs of the company and translate them into tables, columns and data types that fit in with the database management system.

Data modelers are all about accuracy and efficiency. They have an excellent understanding of data modeling rules and principles.

There Are Many More SQL Jobs

These are just five of the main professions that make use of SQL, but there are many, many more professions in which SQL skills are in demand. Think: marketers, consultants, project managers, business analysts, and more.

SQL is demanded by employers for the same reason English is so widely used around the world. It’s relatively simple, it offers a useful standard, and it gets the job done.

You can be successful in Bhutan if you speak the local Dzongkha language. However, if you want your success to be more widely applicable, the simple truth is that you will need to learn English, too. The same goes for SQL and a career in the world of databases. Knowing niche database languages is all very well, but SQL is the one in demand and the one that will take you to great heights. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn more! SQL pairs up nicely with a range of other programming languages.

Because you’re probably already a data fan, here’s a nice juicy stat to convince you just how popular SQL is among employers. Burning Glass, which collects millions of job advertisements from across the US, published the findings below from February/March of 2020:

Graph: Dice.com

Graph: Dice.com

Now that’s what I call “in demand”!

Why SQL Beat NoSQL

The term “NoSQL” was coined back in 1998 by Carlo Strozzi, who created an open-source relational database that didn’t use SQL to express queries. A decade later, the meaning of “NoSQL” had changed to refer to a move away from relational databases altogether.

The two internet giants Google and Amazon developed their own distributed non-relational systems for dealing with data: Google’s MapReduce (2004) and Bigtable (2006) and Amazon’s Dynamo (2007). These new systems led to others: Hadoop, Cassandra, and MongoDB among them.

NoSQL was popular at first, just like fidget spinners, twerking, and Napster. The software developer community was excited about the idea of change. NoSQL was a shiny new toy and reeked of promise. But there was a catch.

Data professionals quickly came to realize that the lack of SQL made their lives a lot harder. Connecting these new databases to applications was difficult, finding staff who knew the unique query languages was difficult, and companies were suddenly forced to develop their own operational tools to work alongside the new database systems.

The new NoSQL languages were lacking development. They were immature, which made them more complex at the application level. Quite quickly, the data community saw the light and came back to SQL. The PostgreSQL community also bubbled back to life and added major improvements, with companies finding more and more ways to scale PostgreSQL for their unique database needs.

Look no further than Google, one of the NoSQL leaders, to see just how much SQL remains in demand by the big players on the field.

Having started building upon Bigtable, Google quickly learned that SQL was a necessary component and that its absence was keenly felt. In one of Google’s whitepapers about its data management system, Spanner, the company acknowledges just how vital Structured Query Language was to their success:

While these systems provided some of the benefits of a database system, they lacked many traditional database features that application developers often rely on. A key example is a robust query language, meaning that developers had to write complex code to process and aggregate the data in their applications. As a result, we decided to turn Spanner into a full featured SQL system, with query execution tightly integrated with the other architectural features of Spanner (such as strong consistency and global replication).

The paper goes on to acknowledge just how impactful SQL standardization has been for Google’s technological advancements:

Spanner’s SQL engine shares a common SQL dialect, called “Standard SQL”, with several other systems at Google including internal systems such as F1 and Dremel (among others), and external systems such as BigQuery […] For users within Google, this lowers the barrier of working across the systems. A developer or data analyst who writes SQL against a Spanner database can transfer their understanding of the language to Dremel without concern over subtle differences in syntax, NULL handling, etc.

SQL is enjoying greater popularity these days than ever before. It is widely used in cloud-based technologies—all of the key cloud providers use relational database services—and it is thriving as an interface on top of Spark, Kafka, and Hadoop.

Why Learn SQL?

SQL continues to be one of the most in-demand skills required for developers and other database-related jobs. While “old” is often perceived “outdated” in the tech world, it actually speaks to how functional, tested, and proven SQL is.

There are so many updates and extensions available to modern-day SQL users that it undeniably retains its throne as the king of the database management languages.

Coding language is just like regular spoken and written language. It is most useful when spoken by a large number of people, when it is standardized, and when it evolves to meet the changing needs of its users. Luckily for those of us interested in SQL, it is relatively quick and painless to pick up!

So why learn SQL over a NoSQL language? Here’s a little reality check for those of you who like new and shiny things:

Better is better because it’s better, not because it is new.

How do you get started with SQL? LearnSQL.com’s SQL from A to Z course is a fantastic and comprehensive training. If you’re going to be preparing a lot of reports in your role, the SQL Reporting track is an excellent follow-up.

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