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As you’re researching technology bootcamps, we’re willing to bet you’ll come across SQL. We see SQL in the curricula of so many different types of bootcamps, from Web Development to Data Science. With a wide variety of uses, and not many alternatives, SQL is a technology that you’ll arguably need to use no matter what job you get in tech. Jonathan Balaban, a senior instructor from Metis, joined us to answer all your SQL questions: what is SQL used for, which companies use SQL, and how you can learn SQL as a beginner!

Meet The Expert

Jonathan Balaban:

What is SQL and what is it used for?

SQL is an acronym that stands for Structured Query Language. “Structured” means we’re talking about data that’s structured in a specific format called a relational database. “Query” is a fancy term for “pulling” or “searching” the things that matter to you or your company out of that huge data set and being able to do further analysis or making smarter decisions with it.

With SQL, we can:

SQL has been a Standard of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) since 1986, and of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) since 1987. Even in 2018, when everything is modern and new, SQL is very much alive, strong, and in use at all of the fanciest tech companies you can imagine.

What are the origins of SQL?

Ted Codd[15] was an English research scientist working at IBM (like half the world). IBM was a real powerhouse in terms of information and new technologies. He came up with this concept of a relational database, or a way to store data in an organized way, in different tables. But then the question was – how do they talk to each other? Data in one table may be related to another – keys tell us how data is related. This is important because we’re collecting so much data now. A lot of studies show that in the last 5 years, more data has been created than all of the data that existed from the beginning of recorded time.

Donald D. Chamberlin and Raymond F. Boyce were Americans who realized they needed to create a simple language to quickly and easily interact with relational databases and pull data out. People really adopted the relational database once SQL was created.

How is SQL used across tech?

Let’s go through a few:

What are relational databases used for?

A relational database is a database structured to recognize relations among stored items of information.

relational-database-sql-example

For example, imagine you work for a rideshare company like Uber or Lyft – how would you want to capture data?

You would definitely want to capture information about Rides – where each one started, ended, how much it cost, etc.

A relational database can then store info about Drivers. We have a pool of drivers (could be 1000 to 10000) and need to store information about their drivers’ licenses, when they expire, their rating, how many rides they’ve given, how much money they’ve made over time.

The next table is Passenger information. We can store passenger rating. The interaction between a Passenger and a Driver creates a Ride, but we can split that into categories and store them in different tables. And we use less space and memory to manage that data, but we need SQL to make these tables talk to each other. We can connect a Ride to a Passenger and a Driver with an ID.

What are other database tools like MySQL and NoSQL?

SQL is a standard language – adding new methods and definitions is standardized. But there are different flavors or variants of SQL – mySQL and Postgres are the most common.

MySQL is just a platform – it can run within a console or a shell. It’s basically the SQL language plus a bit of spice.

NoSQL is more of a methodology than a package. It stands for Not Only SQL. I think this is a study in bad branding, because it sounds like you won’t need to use SQL, but in fact the opposite is true. SQL is the core, but they’ve added on cool functionality for the internet age. The scale of data is bigger than ever before, and we can move from relational databases into more loosely structured databases.

Which companies use SQL?

I would flip the question – which companies don’t use SQL? I’d put money on you not being able to find one. Any time you have a lot of data, you’ll see SQL.

Why are people still using SQL after 32 years?

I think it’s because SQL is super intuitive. Other languages die down and get replaced as something better and faster comes along. But SQL is very simple and focused on doing certain things very well. Even if SQL will be dead in 5 to 10 years (which I doubt), that’s still a long time to be able to empower yourself.

Regardless of how long it will be around, I think SQL is one of the best languages for someone new to Computer Science and programming. It’s simple, you can interact with a database, you don’t need a fancy computer or connection to get started.

Should beginners learn SQL?

For those who are thinking, “well I don’t know any programming languages and I can’t wrap my head around this.” I want to say – SQL is about as easy as it gets for beginners. I can’t think of a language written more like English. By the end of the first 3 hours in our SQL Fundamentals course, you’ll already be doing basic queries and modifying data.

There are a lot of people who would benefit from learning SQL:

How can beginners start learning SQL?

Tell us about the Metis SQL Fundamentals course!

The course is called SQL Fundamentals because there’s no requirement to have ever used or touched SQL before. This is a 12-hour program and it’s accessible to anyone who is motivated to stick through the course. We’ll start at a low bar but we’ll move quite quickly. You can turn around and start using these skills right away on the job.

It’s live online, so you’ll have an instructor and a TA. The instructor will teach different concepts for the first half of each class, and the second half will be playing around with data.

In the curriculum, we’ll cover:

What types of students should take a SQL course?

The students who we’re looking for have these 4 criteria:


Jonathan, thank you so much – that was a great primer and if folks want to learn more about SQL, SQL is a part of any goodbootcamp’s curriculum, but specifically, you can check out Metis’ new SQL Fundamentals class.

About The Author

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Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students considering a coding bootcamp. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube

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