Chris Castiglione Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.

7 Tips for How to Finally Get Good at (and Master) SQL

4 min read


You’ve just learned the basics of SQL, and now you’re wondering: how do I get better at SQL and databases? In this piece, I’m going to share with you some tips and best practices for how to improve your SQL skills. 

Gaining SQL exposure and experience in a new workplace is not something that will happen automatically. You’ll need to get some experience where you work, or get creative and start practicing before you join your new workplace. When looking for ways to get SQL exposure, it’s important to think about how you will want to use your new skills, once you acquire them. It’s important to see yourself within the role you will be carrying out. 

For instance, if you love to code, then start by integrating SQL into your apps. If you’re a system administrator or DevOps person, then maybe consider managing databases with day-to-day tasks such as user permissions. In short, try to start looking at what you do from a SQL or database perspective.

Including SQL into your current processes, is a great way to think about embracing it and building your skills. There are several approaches that you may take with building your SQL skills, some simple, and other less conventional. Let’s explore some of them:


1. Make SQL Part of Your Work Day

Here are a few tips on how to make SQL part of your workday: Maybe your organization is looking for someone with basic SQL skills, willing to tackle some repetitive work. Inform your colleagues and peers that you have interest in getting proficient with SQL 

You might have colleagues at work that work with SQL, therefore showing interest and initiative can be enough to get some valuable tips from them. Don’t be afraid, take the opportunity when it comes, and keep your eyes opened.

2. Document Your SQL Learning Experience 

Practice makes perfect, so the saying goes. A great way to practice is by documenting. Creating documentation is a great way to practice, test and validate things. 

There’s nothing fancy about writing documentation, but it goes a long way. Writing and documenting, means you are forced to think, test and validate concepts. It’s a stronger way to build your skills than sitting back and watching a course or a video tutorial. 

Documentation provides some other opportunities. Writing out processes gives you the opportunity to learn the inner workings of the technology you are writing about, along with installation and updating procedures. By writing documentation, you will not only will you build your skills, but also expose you to other opportunities. Those who have perfected the art of documentation are writers and authors, which are always viewed as experts in their fields. Be that person.

3. Produce Reports using SQL for your business 

Your organization will have databases, and possibly plenty of them. This means there’s an opportunity to start writing queries, which can be used to produce reports for managers to look at and make important decisions. 

There are entire career paths dedicated to querying data, such as data analysis, data science, and business intelligence. 

Knowing how to write queries and producing reports that others can use to make informed and smart decisions, puts you at an advantage over your colleagues. The more relevant information you can handover to managers or customers, the better you will look in their eyes while acquiring experience along the way.

The best about this approach is that you’ll only be reading data, and not making any updates to any of the databases, which are usually heavily scrutinized and require special permissions. So, write all the queries you can and produce reports, it will do wonders for you.

4. Share Your SQL Knowledge with Others

If you got in the habit of documenting, the next great way to detailing your journey with a specific programming language is to build yourself as a credible source in the SQL space. A great way to achieve this is by blogging.

A blog is a great resource that you and anyone else can come back to whenever a refresher is needed. Other people wanting to gain experience on the subject, can check your experiences, comment and learn at the same time. Sharing your journey allows you to gain valuable karma and be perceived as someone willing to go the extra mile.

Maintaining a blog requires an extensive amount of work and if you have the willingness and time, it’s worthwhile doing. However, consider joining some online communities such as forums and user groups that are related to SQL. You will be surprised to discover how many people have at some point in their professional careers, gone through similar experiences as yours. Successful database administrators will be happy to answer questions and offer help on these online forums. Sharing is caring.

5. Volunteer or Freelance on an SQL or Database Project

If you have some spare time, why not use it to level-up your skills and enhance your resume with freelance or volunteering opportunities? Freelance sites like Upwork, have plenty of customers

who need help with SQL, and putting what you know to work, is a great way to gain more experience and exposure, besides earning some extra additional income.

Another great way to get experience is by volunteering to non-profit organizations. They typically have lots of data, but might not have the resources to have a SQL experienced person on demand. Don’t pass up any opportunity to get more exposure using SQL. The experience is what you’re trying to gain, even if you’re not getting paid. Look at the bigger picture and what you are learning now, for the future.

Doing good work in any capacity will do wonders for any future jobs. You’ll be gaining connections with clients, experiences with SQL and working on solving real-world problems, and maybe even references for additional work. Before you know it, you’ll have broaden your SQL experience.

6. Learn SQL Early in Your Career 

Learning SQL is like harvesting. You plan the seeds early on to get a good harvest later. SQL is a technology worth learning, even if database administration or development isn’t in your career path for the future.

One great thing about SQL is that anyone can pick it up rather fast, nevertheless, writing queries that return the data the way you want, in the order, you want it, without consuming all your computer’s memory or CPU is something that takes time and a good deal of effort. Learning SQL is a process will not happen overnight. You will have to put in the work to make it a reality.

The key is to keep your eyes open at all times for any opportunities. Grab chances when they appear. With hard work, willingness to learn, and a small dose of good fortune, SQL will be within your reach and a valuable asset for your working life and career.

7. Once You Know SQL, Look at Performance

Knowing how to write basic queries in SQL is one thing,  but knowing how to write high-performance queries is another thing. There are great resources and books that cover this topic.

Here are some of the best books to learn SQL:

A great way to get started with SQL performance is to understand indexes. This resource describes indexes in-depth and how beneficial they are for optimal database performance.

Learn to Code Comment Avatar
Chris Castiglione Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.