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How I Used SQL to Advance in My Career

Updated on: April 18, 2024

SQL has become increasingly valuable in today’s job market.  In this article, I will share my personal experience with SQL. I hope it will inspire you to grow in your career and achieve your own goals!

A few years ago, I felt stuck in a job that I didn’t fully enjoy. Sure, there were aspects of my job that I appreciated, like building budgets, analyzing the performance of promotional programs, and watching my team grow professionally. However, I still felt tied to tedious work that just wasn’t thrilling.

I wanted to learn a new skill that would help me advance in my career, but I didn’t want to go back to school or spend thousands of dollars to do it. So, I started doing some research online to learn more about what interested me.

My skillset already included financial analysis and data visualization through the use of Excel and other tools like Power Pivot and Power Query. I knew I enjoyed working with data and using my creativity to build interactive dashboards for analysis. So after work, I would take courses online to learn more about financial reporting, Tableau, and Excel add-ons.

One day, I was browsing YouTube and I came across a video talking about careers in data analysis and data science. That sent me spiraling into the world of coding! There was so much content available and I was blown away by the number of resources I had at my fingertips. After spending hours upon hours listening to videos and learning about this field, I decided that SQL was a must have! After researching a few platforms, I came across this great resource that would help me learn everything I needed to know about SQL.

Three Reasons Why Knowing SQL Helped Me Get Ahead in My Career

SQL was appealing for a few reasons.

First, it’s a skill that’s in high demand! According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, data science will experience a remarkable 36% growth between 2021 and 2031, followed by business analysis (with an increase of 11%), and database administration (with an expected growth rate of 9%).

If you’ve paid attention to the job market at all, you know that companies are obsessed with making data-driven decisions for their business. Companies are using SQL training programs and other tools to do exactly that!

Second, I had gained some recent exposure to SQL at the company I worked for at the time; I immediately saw the potential to automate many of my tedious daily tasks. A portion of my job involved reconciling accounts and clearing transactions in a legacy system that has been around since the 1990’s! I knew if I used SQL to automate these tasks, I could reclaim several hours (if not an entire week) of my time. I could also use projects like these to show my employer that I had saved them time and money, resulting in pay raises and increased responsibility.

Third, I realized that information on SQL was readily available online! I could start off with free information, just to get my feet wet, then work my way into more challenging and hands-on content to solidify my knowledge. There were plenty of YouTube videos about SQL basics as well as some basic/intermediate courses on platforms like Coursera or Udemy. The sky was the limit! I could take as many courses as I wanted or needed, learn at my own pace, and advance as far as I wanted for a small investment.

Advancing with SQL Was Game-Changing

Once I started learning SQL, I couldn’t put it down. I requested access to a few tables at work and started digging into the data. I explored other people’s code and tried to replicate their results. Before long, the basic syntax of SQL was second nature.

sql career

Initially, I used SQL to run some simple queries and answer questions about my data: What was the balance in this particular account at the end of the month? How much did we do in sales last month?

But that evolved quickly. By practicing at work and walking through a few courses online, I started to join tables together to answer more detailed questions. For example, a full list of transactions impacting cash for the month, including the associated bank account, vendor name, and customer name (stored in a different table). And eventually, I was using SQL to find out the account balance this month compared to last, my average sales last month, and which products exceed or fall short of that average.

I continued to build on my knowledge until I was able to automate my most tedious tasks! One such task was a cash reconciliation, which, believe it or not, took me 4+ hours to complete when I first reviewed it. There were limited notes documenting the process and unfortunately, no one I worked with knew how to complete the task. When I knew enough SQL to automate the majority of the task, I was able to complete a reconciliation in an hour or less. Are you starting to see the power of SQL?

How I Gained the Attention of Employers

As I completed online courses, I would post my course certificates on LinkedIn. I also found a way to use GitHub to post one of my recent scripts and use it as a portfolio. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t anything glamorous like Robby Leonardi’s interactive resume, but it worked nonetheless!

How did I do this? I merely repurposed one of the projects I had worked on by changing all the table names to something generic and anonymizing sensitive information. I posted the script, but – most importantly – I explained my thought process on how I wrote the script and walked my viewers through its purpose. It’s important to note that employers are looking for both technical skills (like SQL) and critical thinking skills. So, adding notes to describe the steps you took to build a solution (script) and explaining your results (e.g. data visualization, dollar impact, time savings) will always help you stand out from the crowd!

Next, I used my sample script in interviews as proof that I had learned enough SQL to be successful on the job. I proved that I could save employers time and money with this one simple skill that I absolutely enjoyed! And that’s how I landed a job with a consulting firm that specializes in big tech!

sql career

When I was first hired on, the pay and benefits were much better than what I was making before. I also loved being part of a culture where everyone supported each other and willingly helped each other learn.

As I continued to utilize new technologies in tandem with SQL to build workflows, dashboards, and automate routine tasks, I had more people reaching out for help – and pay raises to support my efforts!

What Can Learning SQL Do For You?

SQL is a powerful tool that you can leverage in a few ways. You might wonder how it can benefit you. Well, it depends on what direction you want to take!

SQL is a versatile and highly portable language that applies to a multitude of jobs. It’s ideal for analysts and Business Intelligence professionals, regardless of their role in the company. It’s essential for developers and data engineers looking to build products that require extensive data manipulation.

It’s also indispensable for marketers who need to analyze customer demographics, Google Ads results, and other key factors that determine their success. You can learn more about the types of database jobs here!

Regardless of the route you choose, you’ll need to start with the basics. I recommend finding a single platform like that offers high-quality content, doesn’t require you to download anything, and offers courses from the most basic to the most advanced. It should have plenty of content that allows you to practice and apply what you’ve learned. Ideally, it will also have course certificates that you can use to gain some traction with employers.

After you learn the basics, you’ll want to dig deep into topics related to your career path. If you’re hoping to become a developer or database administrator, this is where you’ll start understanding database basics – primary and foreign keys, data types, creating and managing tables, and writing functions.

If you want to go down the data analysis or data science route, you’ll start learning how to use aggregations and window functions to analyze data and build reports. Then PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and start building a portfolio! One of the best places to do this is the SQL Practice track.

sql practice set

Lastly… and trust me on this one… learning SQL should be an investment of time and money. I’ve tried the free approach and it did eventually point me in the right direction. But I only made it so far before I got tired of the dead ends, lack of focus, and lack of resources. I had courses convincing me that I would need to download software on my computer just to practice my coding. I watched hours of content unrelated to the career I wanted… but I didn’t realize it at the time because I was just starting out. Eventually, I landed on a platform that had all of the course content and practice exercises that I could ever want.

Here are some resources that can help you learn SQL:

You Can Advance Your Career with SQL!

So, if you’re considering learning SQL to advance in your career, take my advice! Invest in yourself, NEVER stop learning, and keep seeking out ways to use SQL to:

  • Help your company make better decisions.
  • Improve your day-to-day tasks at work.
  • Get that job you’ve been waiting for!

Start learning SQL today!