Structured Query Language (SQL) is a powerful and essential tool for any data analyst. As a highly versatile programming language, SQL is widely used in the field of data analysis because it supports easy data manipulation, it’s an easy-to-learn, well-established programming language and offers a large and active community of SQL users who can provide support and resources.
However, these benefits barely begin to skim the surface of how SQL can help you accelerate your career. Whether you already have SQL skills or are thinking about adding SQL to your arsenal, here are 5 ways your SQL skills can pay off big time.
1. Flexibility to use a wide range of modern data tools
SQL has long been the language of choice for communicating with databases. Because SQL can communicate with nearly any database and it’s so easy to learn, support for SQL is embedded in nearly every major data integration tool, including Talend, Alteryx, Tableau, Looker and Google Data Studio. Users can also embed SQL into open source languages like R and Python. Having SQL knowledge allows you to easily use all of these tools in your work, for everything from simple queries, to more complex data transformation work.
2. Ability to manage and manipulate data sets
Every business is now a data company, which means every business has data that it wants to use to derive insights that can improve the business.
And, as the size of that data grows, you need a way to manage and manipulate it. While other approaches are fine for simple data sets, SQL is the de facto solution for meaningful analysis. SQL presents a simple and efficient way to access and manipulate large amounts of data stored in a database. It allows you to retrieve specific pieces of data from a database, update and delete existing data and add new data to the database.
SQL also provides powerful tools for sorting and filtering data, as well as for performing calculations and aggregations on data sets. One SQL query can fetch results from millions of rows within a minute. This also enables you to gain access to fresh data because the speed at which SQL can return query results reduces bottlenecks or delays to insight. By learning SQL, you can work with data more efficiently and effectively, and make better-informed decisions based on the insights and trends you uncover through your data analysis.
3. Derive deeper insights
When working with data, it’s common to have information stored in multiple tables or data sets. The ability to join data sets is an essential tool for anyone working with data and seeking to derive deeper insights. For instance, you may have a table that contains customer information, such as names and addresses, and another table that contains orders placed by those customers. Without the ability to join these data sets, it’s difficult to analyze the relationship between customer information and order history.
Using SQL to join those data sets allows you to combine data from multiple tables and view it as a single entity. This makes it easier to perform queries and analyze the data in a more meaningful way.
For example, you could use a SQL join statement to find out which customers have placed the most orders or to identify trends in customer behavior based on their location or other demographic information. You could also use SQL to combine sales data from an e-commerce platform and customer data from a CRM system. By combining and analyzing this data, you can provide the business with a more comprehensive view of its customers and operations to identify patterns and trends that may not have been apparent from isolated data sets.
This helps the business make more informed and strategic decisions about its products, services and overall business direction. And when you provide more value, you have more opportunities. It's not uncommon for data analysts to continue their career path into roles such as solutions consultants or SQL developers.
4. Automate data processing tasks
SQL provides a wide range of tools and features that can help automate data processes, saving time,effort and allowing you to focus on more critical tasks. One of the main ways that SQL helps automate data processes is by allowing you to create stored procedures and functions that can be called and executed repeatedly. These stored procedures and functions can contain complex logic and operations, such as loops and conditional statements, which allow you to automate tasks such as data cleansing, data transformation and data aggregation.
SQL also provides a number of other tools and features that can help automate data processes. For example, you can use SQL triggers to automatically execute certain actions in response to specific events, such as the insertion or update of a record in a database table. You can also use SQL views to create virtual tables to automate the process of querying and aggregating data from multiple tables.
Ultimately, the more automation you’re able to put into place, the faster time to insights — increasing the decision-making agility of the entire business. This adds value to what you can do for the company and gives you a leg up in promotion opportunities.
5. Increase your earning potential
Across industries and roles — due to the widespread use of databases in the modern workplace — SQL is a common skill for high-ranking professionals. In fact, in the not-too-far-distant future, SQL may become as essential as knowing Microsoft Office or Google Suite applications.
For example, business analysts may use SQL to pull data from databases to create reports and track key performance indicators. Marketing professionals may use SQL to track customer behavior and segment their audience for targeted campaigns. SQL is also used by IT professionals to manage and maintain databases, as well as by project managers to track project progress and resources.
Having the skills to draw out these high-value business insights can empower you to move toward more senior roles. And, if you decide you want to make an even larger leap to an entirely different type of role or field, such as strategy and operations or product or business management, having SQL skills only further accentuates your capabilities because almost every role in the modern workplace needs to effectively and efficiently work with data.
One of the best ways to leverage SQL is with dbt
One of the most common ways to leverage SQL at scale for transforming data on cloud data platforms is dbt, an open-source data transformation framework that is extremely popular for its ability to expedite the process of transforming data and building data pipelines. dbt is a modern programming framework built around the idea that SQL is the best language for data transformation. Using the SQL skills you already possess, you can more effectively perform data transformation and manage pipelines at scale, with built-in support for version control, data quality testing and documentation. This makes you a more trusted, insights-generating partner to all stakeholders, increasing your ability to optimize desired business outcomes with the power of data.
This puts you in a position to further elevate your career because you have the skills to take on greater data responsibilities than just data analysis.
Being able to demonstrate how you can make your company more efficient makes you more attractive in a competitive job market. And, thanks to the universality of SQL, you can take transferable skills with you to each new opportunity. This allows you to have a major impact from day one.
Want to learn more about how data transformation skills increase your impact now and increase your potential in the future? Read our ebook here.
Want to get started with dbt for data transformation? Find out more here.