Getting an entry-level SQL Developer job can be a challenge, but it is possible and rewarding. SQL is often one of the first skills that IT professionals develop. Learning the technical aspect of SQL coding is important. But it’s also important to learn how to optimize your job search so you can put those skills to use. It can initially be difficult to get the first job because of the lack of hands-on experience. However, there are things you can do to increase your chances of getting a job.
In this post, we’ll talk about the kinds of jobs you can get with your newfound SQL skills. We’ll outline a career path and the types of things you should learn. And we’ll talk about how to get experience with SQL.
What Kinds of Jobs Can I get if I Learn SQL?
There are many job options available to SQL Developers. Likewise, there are many career paths that can lead you to a lucrative career working with data.
Early in your career, if your primary technical skill is SQL coding, you might start out designing databases to capture information and then writing reports to visualize and summarize that data. This would be a fairly typical entry-level SQL Developer job. You might also look for job descriptions such as a “Database Report Writer” or “Report Developer“. (Other titles to search for might include “Business Intelligence Developer”, “Database Developer”, or “SQL Database Developer”.) For these types of roles, SQL will be one of the most important skills. Additionally, you should know how to use common reporting tools. This would include tools like Tableau, Microsoft Power BI, or SQL Server Reporting Services which are commonly used to create user-friendly visual reports from SQL databases. You may also decide to add Microsoft Access to your inventory of skills since it can help you to create forms for data entry into your databases.
As you gain experience and knowledge, you may decide to take one of a few paths. Let’s examine career paths for SQL developers.
Possible SQL Career Paths
You could consider moving deeper into the inner workings of the database platforms (Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, MySQL, Oracle, etc.). In this case, you might move towards becoming a Database Administrator, or DBA. Most of the major platforms have certifications for Database Administrators. A Database Administrator will often be tasked with installing and configuring database servers, optimizing performance, and troubleshooting issues. These can be challenging, but rewarding, roles that are in high demand and pay very well.
Another path you could pursue is that of a Data Scientist. Data Scientists use large amounts of data to provide valuable insights to businesses. If you’re a naturally curious person that likes thinking outside the box and working with complex statistics and math, then this career path might be for you. A Data Scientist is often tasked with using an organization’s existing data coupled with other broadly available data sets to draw correlations and identify patterns. These data sets may come from sales, marketing, finance, operations, or IT. You will also be expected to summarize and visualize your findings in a user-friendly manner. This career path will also likely get you exposure to executive management including presenting your work and making strategic recommendations based on it.
A third path you might consider is moving deeper into the software development aspect of the job. Virtually all Software Development and Engineering roles require in-depth knowledge of databases and the Structured Query Language itself. As you write code – whether using Java, C#, Python, or another language – you will formulate SQL queries that you send to the database. Your code will receive the results from the database and subsequently use those results for calculations, business rules, or display.
These aren’t the only options for your SQL developer career path. There are limitless possibilities for your career once you’ve mastered some very basic skills.
What SQL Skills Do I Need for an Entry-Level SQL Job?
From an entry-level perspective, the skills you should have are very basic. Here is a list of the most important things to know to get started:
- Know what a relational database is
- Understand primary keys and foreign key relationships
- Understand the various types of data and when to use them
- Know how to design and create tables
- Know how to create and read an Entity Relational Diagram
- Basic SQL commands such as SELECT / FROM, WHERE clauses, and all of the different types of JOIN statements
- How to use functions for aggregating data (SUM, AVERAGE, MAX, MIN, etc.) along with the GROUP BY statement
- How to INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE data from SQL tables
The good news is that we teach all of these skills in our Beginner SQL Database course! Generally speaking, about 85% of the work you’ll need to do with a database will be covered with these basic skills, coupled with your own creative problem-solving skills.
Advancing Your SQL Skills to Level Up Your Career
As you progress down your career path, you may decide to move into more advanced SQL topics in order to get more from your databases. From an intermediate to advanced perspective, consider learning:
- What Stored Procedures are and how/when to use them
- How and when to create User Defined Functions
- Tools for Extract, Transform, and Load (ETL) to move data into and between databases
- Scripting and control structures within SQL – loops, if/else statements
- What a database cursor is and how to use it
- Using Common Table Expressions (CTE)
- Pivoting SQL data with queries
- Using indexes within a SQL database
These topics will help you to begin performing a more advanced analysis of your data. You’ll also start to build up the skills required to create efficient data warehouses. From here, you may decide to expand your skill set to understand how to administer databases, which will get you into an even deeper level of knowledge.
How Do I Get Experience as an Entry-Level SQL Developer?
Whenever you’re learning a new skill, one of the most difficult things to do is gain real-world experience that you can showcase on your resume or CV. It’s one thing to know how to write SQL code. It’s a different thing to convince an employer that you can do it well, even in an entry-level SQL developer job.
If you work in an environment or job where you have an opportunity to interact with SQL databases then you can start to apply those skills in your day-to-day work right away. Look for projects and opportunities to begin accessing and using SQL to query data in support of your current job.
Also, make sure to tell your boss that you’ve completed coursework and ask if there are ways you can use it in your day-to-day activities. Many employers like to provide growth opportunities to their team members. They appreciate when their people step up and ask to take on new challenges.
Additionally, you can look for personal projects where you can exercise those skills and create ways to showcase those things on your resume. This could be done by finding large public data sets to work with. You can then create reports and visuals that could be shared on your LinkedIn profile or linked from your resume.
For more ideas, check out my recent blog post on how to kick-start your development career. In that post, I cover seven specific things you can do to build up experience.
Ultimately, gaining experience and finding your entry-level SQL developer job will take time and effort. You may have to be creative about how you gain the experience. But often, the people around you will be happy to help you grow and expand. All you have to do many times is just ask for help.