A Business User's Guide to SQL - What Is It and Why Should I Care?

By Beekeeper Staff on January 12, 2016

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Structured query language (SQL) is the standard language for communicating with relational database management systems. For data analysts who need to retrieve, update, and analyze records stored in a database, SQL is the most common tool.

Databases like Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server or Access, and many other solutions are known as relational databases. They are used to hold structured data, such as employee records. While there are some slight modifications to the SQL used for database brands, the language structure is the same. Users specify:

  • From: the table, or general location, of the data they are retrieving or updating
  • Where: the specific rows included in the query
  • Order by: The preferred method of sorting data results, such as alphabetically by first name

How is SQL Used?

For analysts tasked with maintaining or analyzing structured data, SQL queries can be written to perform a wide number of tasks. While use cases can vary significantly, some common applications of SQL in a work environment could include:

  • Adding, editing, or deleting data records
  • Creating or editing a “data dictionary” of definitions
  • Defining database user privileges
  • Manipulating or “locking” data tables
  • “Joining” or combining data records from multiple tables

SQL is a highly-flexible language which allows users to complete all necessary communications with databases. Users can execute all aspects of data analysis, records management, quality control, and other operations.

Why SQL Matters

Excel and other spreadsheet applications are an effective tool for storing relatively small amounts of data, such as several thousand records. However, if your business needs to record hundreds of thousands or millions of transactions or other data records, SQL can be a far more effective tool. Specific advantages of SQL above Excel can include:

  • Data Quality Control
  • Advanced Querying
  • Accommodation of Multiple Users
  • Speed and Storage Caps

Unless you intend to work with a relatively small, contained data set, SQL can allow your analysis to grow seamlessly. From access to multiple users to the ability to quickly create advanced queries on a large set of data records, SQL is often more efficient at a larger scale. If your data assets have the potential for growth and expansion, moving into a SQL database environment immediately may ease transition.

SQL Learning Resources

There is a wide array of free or low-cost options for individuals to acquire SQL knowledge from home. A few well-regarded online SQL classes include:

Conclusion

For modern analysts, SQL is a powerful tool for managing structured data assets. Learning SQL can provide you with the means to understand, manage, and manipulate relational databases.

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