Do You Need a SQL Certification to Get a Data Job in 2021?

If you want to work in data, do you need a SQL certification? That’s a question that can be difficult to answer, especially with different organizations pushing to get you to spend money on their certificate programs.


Will getting a SQL certification actually help you get a job?

Do you need to learn SQL? Yes.

Before we dive into the certification question, it’s worth asking: do you need to learn SQL at all to get a job in data?

Short answer: yes, you do. SQL is an absolutely critical skill for working with data. It may be a decades-old language, but it’s still as relevant as ever.

In fact, we recently crunched some numbers from 2020 and found that SQL is still the most commonly-used in data science, ahead of even Python or R!

So you need to learn SQL. That begs another question: do you need a SQL certificate of some kind? Is having a certification going to be helpful when it’s time to apply for jobs?

Do you need a SQL certificate? It depends.

If you aspire to work as a data analyst or data scientist, the answer is no, you do not need a SQL certificate.

You certainly need SQL skills for these jobs, but certification won’t be required. In fact, it probably won’t even help.

Case in point: I recently interviewed data science hiring managers, recruiters, and other professionals for a data science career guide, asking them about the skills and qualifications they wanted to see in great data analyst and data scientist job candidates. The transcripts of these interviews, put together, cover nearly 200 pages!

Throughout those 200 pages, the term “SQL” is mentioned a lot, because that’s a skill that most hiring managers want to see. But “certification” and “certificate”? Those words don’t appear in the transcripts at all. Not a single person I spoke to thought certificates were important enough to even mention them in the context of data analyst and data scientist jobs.

In other words: the people who hire data analysts and data scientists typically don’t care about certifications. Having a SQL certificate on your resume isn’t likely to impact their decision making.

employer who is skeptical

You can put a SQL certificate on your resume, but you can’t make employers care about it.

You may wonder: why not? The short answer is that there’s no “standard” certification for the SQL that’s required for these roles. And there are so many different online and offline SQL certification options that employers can’t really assess whether or not they’re meaningful. It’s easier for employers to simply look at an applicant’s project portfolio — that’s a much more tangible, trustworthy representation of their SQL skills than a certification.

(Many data science employers also incorporate a SQL skills test or SQL interview questions into their hiring process so that they get an even clearer picture of your SQL skills before making a hiring decision.)

If you aspire to work in something closer to database administration, or you’re looking at a very specific company or industry, it gets a little bit blurrier. There are many “flavors” of SQL tied to different database systems and tools. There may be official certifications associated with the specific flavor of SQL a company uses that are valuable, or even mandatory.

For example, if you’re applying for a database job at a company that uses Microsoft’s SQL Server, getting one of Microsoft’s Azure Database Administrator certificates could be helpful. If you’re applying for a job at a company that uses Oracle, getting an Oracle Database SQL certification may be required.

But again, in data analysis and data science roles, these kinds of certifications are rarely required. The different sub-flavors of SQL rarely differ too much from “base” SQL, and employers generally won’t be concerned about whether you’ve mastered the minutiae of a particular brand’s proprietary tweaks.

They just want to see proof that you’ve got the fundamental SQL skills required to access and filter the data you need. Certifications don’t really prove that you have a particular skill, so the best way to demonstrate your SQL knowledge on a job application is to include projects that show off your SQL skill, not to list certifications.

Is there an “official” SQL certificate?

In a word, no. While there are official certifications for some of the proprietary sub-flavors of SQL and SQL-based database technologies, there’s no official certification for SQL itself.

There are, of course, a wide variety of unofficial SQL certifications with varying levels of quality, rigor, and price. But because there’s no official certification, or even a widely-accepted standard, none of these certifications are particularly useful because employers don’t trust them as proof of SQL skill.

Will getting a certificate help with the job hunt?

Yes and no. As mentioned above, having the right certification can definitely help for database jobs.

For data analyst and data scientist jobs, the certification itself typically is not helpful. Employers aren’t looking for a certificate on your resume, and they’re not likely to care whether or not they see one.

I spoke to a wide variety of employers about what makes a great data science resume, and over nearly 200 pages of interview transcripts, not one of them mentioned wanting to see certifications.

They do want to see proof of SQL skills, though, and this means that SQL certifications can be very useful if they’re teaching you the things you need to know. In that sense, getting a certification can help you with the job hunt — but it’s important to remember that the value you’re getting is in the skills you’re learning.

this is a stock photo that is not related to sql specifically

The code in this is not SQL, but it’s a pretty cool looking stock photo, right?

Is getting a SQL certification worth it for data science?

It depends whether the certification program is teaching you valuable skills or just giving you a bullet point for your LinkedIn. The former can be worth it; the latter is definitely not.

Price is also an important consideration. Even if you have the money to spend thousands on a SQL certification, there’s no good reason to pay that much when you can learn SQL interactively and get certified for a much lower price on platforms like Dataquest.

Of course, the best way to determine if something is worth it is always to try it for yourself. At Dataquest, you can sign up for a free account and dive right into learning SQL. That way, you’ll know you’re making the right decision when you decide to invest in learning SQL skills with us.

How can you learn SQL?

Learning SQL on your own can be challenging, because to actually practice anything you’re learning, you’ll need to find data, set up a local SQL database, and figure out how to connect to it. That creates a lot of up-front challenge, especially if you don’t have any prior experience with SQL!

At Dataquest, we have interactive online SQL courses that allow you to write and run real queries right in your browser. There’s no need to download anything or set anything up locally. Just sign up (it’s free) and you’ll be writing and running your first query in less than five minutes.

And unlike some of the other platforms out there, we don’t just drop you into the deep end after covering the simple queries — we’ll walk you through the more complex SQL queries that are a part of everyday data science work in the real world.

Learn SQL the right way!

  • Writing real queries
  • In your browser
  • On your schedule

Why watch video lectures when  you can learn by doing?

If you already know some SQL, you might also find this SQL cheat sheet we put together helpful!

What SQL certificate is best?

As we’ve mentioned above, there’s a good chance you don’t need a SQL certificate. But if you do feel you need one, or you’d just like to have one, here are some of the best certifications and the specific reasons you might want to have them.

  • Dataquest’s SQL courses. These are great options for learning SQL for data science and data analysis. They’ll take you hands-on with real SQL databases, and show you how to write queries to pull, filter, and analyze the data you need. All of our SQL courses offer certifications that you can add to your LinkedIn after you’ve completed them. They also include guided projects that you can complete and add to your GitHub and resume!
  • MTA: Database Fundamentals. This is a Microsoft certification that covers some of the fundamentals of SQL for database administration. It is focused on Microsoft’s SQL Server product, but many of the skills it covers will be relevant to other SQL-based relational database systems.
  • Microsoft’s Azure Database Administrator certificate. This is a great option if you’re applying to database administrator jobs at companies that use Microsoft SQL Server. Note that if you’re looking into this, you’ll see mentions to Microsoft’s MCSA certification, too. However, that certification is older, and is being retired in January 2021. The Azure certification linked above is the newest and most relevant certification related to Microsoft SQL Server.
  • Oracle Database SQL certification. This could be a good certification for anyone who’s interested in database jobs at companies that use Oracle.
  • Koenig SQL certifications. Koenig offers a variety of SQL-related certification programs, although they tend to be quite pricey (over US$1,000 for most programs). Most of these certifications are specific to particular database technologies (like Microsoft SQL Server) rather than being aimed at building general SQL knowledge, and would probably be best for those who know they’ll need training in a specific type of database for a job as a database administrator.

Should I get a university, edX, or Coursera certification in SQL?

One option that can seem appealing if you’re interested in a more general SQL certification is getting certified through a university-affiliated program, either online or in-person. For example, there’s a Stanford program at EdX, programs affiliated with UC Davis and the University of Michigan at Coursera, etc.

These programs can seem to offer some of the cachet of a university degree without the expense or the time commitment. Unfortunately, hiring managers don’t see them that way.

stanford university campus

This is Stanford University. Unfortunately, getting a Stanford certificate from EdX will not trick employers into thinking you went here.

Employers know that a Stanford certificate and a Stanford degree, for example, are very different things. Even if the certificate program uses video lectures from real courses, employers know that certificate programs rarely include rigorous testing or project assessment. Often, they don’t even do anything to verify student identities!

Most online university certificate programs follow a basic formula:

  • You watch video lectures to learn the material.
  • You take multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank quizzes to test your knowledge.
  • If you complete any kind of hands-on project, it is ungraded, or graded by your peers (other learners in your cohort).

This format is immensely popular because it is the most economical way for universities to monetize their course material.

All they have to do is record some lectures, write a few quizzes, and then hundreds of thousands of students can move through the courses with no additional effort or expense required.

Employers know that these certificate programs are not rigorous. Often it’s possible to complete an online programming certification without ever having written or run a line of code!

What employers want to see on a resume is proof of your SQL skills, and they know that this type of certificate doesn’t prove anything.

So, university certificates aren’t going to impress anyone on your resume! But can they be a valuable resource for actually learning SQL?

Theoretically, yes. But they have some major shortcomings.

First and most important: they generally don’t include any hands-on practice. You can certainly try to set up practice on your own, but if your course isn’t requiring you to do this, it’s easy to put it off or forget.

Going hands-on and actually writing and running SQL queries is imperative, though. So is working with real data. The best way to learn to do these critical professional tasks is by doing them, not by watching a professor talk about them.

That’s why at Dataquest, we have an interactive online platform that lets you write and run real SQL queries on real data right from your browser window. As you’re learning new SQL concepts, you’ll be immediately applying them in a real-world setting.

dataquest sql learning platform looks like this

This is how we teach SQL at Dataquest

And after each course, you’ll be asked to synthesize your new learnings into a longer-form guided project that you can customize and put on your resume and GitHub!

Second, because of the peer-graded projects and lecture-based format in university certificate courses, they tend to come with time constraints. You’ll have to wait for a set data for a course to open before you can start. You’ll have to dedicate a set amount of time to watching each lecture, and you’ll have to finish by a certain date to get some of the benefits.

This isn’t true of interactive learning platforms like Dataquest, which you can start at anytime. Because our courses are not lecture-based, or even video-based at all, your study sessions can be completely flexible. You can learn and apply something new in as little as five minutes!

But don’t just take our word for it! You can sign up for a free account and within a few minutes, you’ll have written your first SQL query.

Why not give it a try?

Learn SQL the right way!

  • Writing real queries
  • In your browser
  • On your schedule

Why watch video lectures when  you can learn by doing?


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