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

The Best Way to Learn SQL

2 min read

You hIf you’re looking to move ahead in your career as a database developer, data administrator or data analyst, Structured Query Language (SQL) skills are a must-have. 

Having SQL knowledge is a highly in-demand skill, however, it can’t be learned in a couple of days. So, here’s the best way to learn SQL and advance your career in database management.

The Best Way to Learn SQL

It is not only for tech nerds, SQL is a programming language that every human on the planet should learn. Why? SQL is a simple, easily learned language. It is used to search through large amounts of data. Think of SQL as being like Google search for a database. You can use SQL to search through your company’s data and make analytical comparisons, look for patterns in data sets, or to comb through and update your personal website’s database. It is super powerful, and if you haven’t learned it yet, then you’re in the right place because in this SQL tutorial I’m going to show you the best (and quickest) way to learn SQL. 

What is SQL?

SQL is the programming language that is used to manage and create databases. In order to understand SQL, you’ll first need to understand the concept of relational databases. Relational databases are made up of a set of tables containing rows and columns of data. Each column in a table represents a category of data, such as a Name, Street or Phone, and each row contains a data value for the intersecting column. 

Below is an example of a database table which can be queried with SQL:

The Best Way to Learn SQL

Some of the features and functions of SQL include: modifying tables and indexes on the database, adding, updating and removing rows of data, retrieving details from the database for transaction and analytics, creating tables and generating new databases.

A very important point to understand is that SQL is here to stay. SQL has been in used since the 1970s, being an easy-to-learn language that will help you to learn other more complex programming languages, including Python and JavaScript.

What does SQL stand for?

Structured Query Language.

How do you start learning SQL?

The great thing about SQL is that it doesn’t require prior software development experience, so it’s a great programming language to learn if you’re beginning with programming. However, with so many resources available to learn SQL, how do you begin to learn it?

1. Import some data 

Like everything in life, it’s essential to start and understand the basics. Start by installing a MySQL or SQLite database setup. From there you will need to upload some data into the database to play with: Download this example .sql file of “users”. Go to your database and IMPORT this .sql file. Now you have some data to play with! 

2. Learn Basic SQL Queries and Commands

To be able to learn SQL effectively there’s a lot of reading that you will initially have to do, which will require practicing SQL queries and commands. The key is to focus on learning simple queries first. 

Try running a simple command like this:


From there, “Google” SQL queries and practice the basics ones like SELECT, UPDATE, INSERT and DELETE.

3. Continue Learning SQL with Online Courses

An awesome way to start is by exploring free quality SQL resources available online. Get started with these great courses:

Another way to get off to a great start is by following interactive tutorials with fun exercises, such as the ones from SQLBolt and SQL Teaching

These sites provide a wealth of resources to slowly build your SQL knowledge. 

Final Thoughts on Learning SQL 

The path to SQL mastery is one full of challenges and adventures. However, there are a couple of things that will help you get a taste of what you will be getting into, especially the following:

While I typically don’t love the W3Schools site, I can recommend their SQL tutorial because it gives you an opportunity to practice writing and running SQL queries in the browser. Give it a try! 

To know how business decisions are made and what moves the world, look at the data. Data leads to evidence, which leads to insights, which help drive better business outcomes. Understanding SQL is a key aspect of today’s data-centric world, so it’s important to be part of it.


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