There it was, staring me in the face.
The coding language that would be the gateway to my new future.
As I looked at an overwhelming list of table entries, I thought the task set before me to find specific groups across multiple databases and programs would take hours. Little did I know that a simple SQL query would change the way I worked from that moment on.
First, I want to acknowledge that “query” is an odd sounding word. The word itself sounds mysterious, though it has a simple definition. According to Merriam-Webster, a “query” is a noun that means “a question, especially one addressed to an official or organization”. In the case of SQL, we are talking about a “database query”, which is “a request for information from a database”. Essentially, SQL is a specialized language that allows you to ask questions of a database. SQL stands for Structured Query Language. According to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), SQL is the standard language for relational database management systems. If you have worked with any sort of database, you have probably encountered SQL at some point, whether you realized it or not.
Now that we have the basics out of the way, back to how this language has changed my life.
Before I knew SQL, I was used to doing things the long way. If I needed to sort through a list or sets of lists, I would physically count or I would use Excel to highlight my items as I found them...and then go back and count my findings. Going even further back to my very first jobs, I handled paper files and had to sort and alphabetize everything, then label it by hand. If someone needed information from multiple files and they didn’t know where to look, I would have to retrieve every possible file that I thought they might need, then dig through all the paperwork and individual fields filled out on the paperwork.
Basically, my work took me a long time to do and there was a lot of room for human error.
Then one day while learning reports for an energy company I worked for, I was taught how SQL worked. My eyes were opened to a whole new world. I could find what I was looking for within seconds...sometimes minutes...if the query was rather large. I felt so empowered! You mean to tell me that at the push of a run button, I’m able to get all the special results I need from thousands and thousands of records and data fields? I knew in that moment that SQL was something I needed to learn.
I started out as a user, but over time, I started recognizing typical mistakes people would make in their queries. I would get in a pinch for time on projects sometimes, so I had to learn on the fly how to research what I wanted to do and how to do it. Slowly, but surely, I started to solve issues in pre-written queries, and eventually began writing my own.
My learning process was a working one and over the course of a few years, my confidence increased, but I knew I wasn’t quite fully understanding the logic behind what I was writing and using. I also knew that my SQL writing was basic, and I wanted to get better. I would watch YouTube tutorials and Google search for what I needed as things came up in my work, which did get me through most of the time. If I could go to an engineer or another advanced analyst, that was always a good option, too. You would be surprised just how much people like helping others learn new things. If you respect their time, they will likely help you out, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
After stumbling aimlessly through online learning for several months, I came across Moms Can: CODE on Facebook. As a mom who had recently stopped working to invest in myself to learn programming on my own, I was interested. I attended a few webinars, then decided to become a member. Immediately, I took to using Progate Plus, the online educational platform provided to Moms Can: CODE members, and I started chipping away at the SQL lessons there. Learning with Progate's examples has really helped me solidify my understanding of the language. Having the support of the Moms Can: CODE community has pushed me to learn more, so that I can now give back by teaching others. SQL has woven its way through my life, and it just keeps on giving. The number of mom friends I share SQL with went from one to hundreds in a matter of weeks. I have found my community. I was no longer alone.
As I am finding my way in the technology industry after leaving energy, SQL has remained my constant skill that shines through for me. Databases are behind any tables, forms, search engines, files, etc. on the internet, so knowing how to talk to the databases in SQL is a great skill to have in your bag. Whether you need to access customer emails on your website, or you need to mine through thousands of medical records at work, SQL can help you do your work faster and with less room for error. Employers want people with this skill. If you can get good at harnessing the power of data, you’ll be unstoppable.
It might take a little while to write an original query for your needs, and sometimes they can get pretty complex, but with diligence and time invested on the front-end, you will reap the reward of saving time later on and being able to retrieve the answers you need much more quickly. Anyone can learn to write SQL. It is pretty easy to learn. Finding the online source, community or book that works for your learning style is probably the most important part. Find a resource that you can connect to and stick with, but most of all, find your tribe of people who can help cheer you on and keep you motivated when you feel down.
Now, go write that first query!