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The structured query language for relational databases is an essential part of many information technology jobs, including software design, system administration and programming. SQL knowledge enhances career prospects, but getting experience when you don’t already have it is a classic chicken-and-egg problem. Look for opportunities to learn SQL on the job, at school or at home.
Download Free Software
Many software vendors offer free versions of their commercial database programs; you can obtain these by going to the vendor’s website and downloading the “Personal” or “Express” version. For example, Microsoft’s SQL Server is available in a free Express edition, suitable for home users, students and freelance software developers. Most open-source databases such as SQLite and MariaDB are also free to download. After you download the software to your own PC, you can build real, working databases and gain valuable knowledge.
Web Page Development
In some instances, Web pages are static files coded in HyperText Markup Language; they change when the webmaster updates his files, and everyone sees the same content. By contrast, active pages have content that’s customized for every user who logs in. Most online retailers use this approach, as do banks and online forums. For this approach, each page is a program that generates custom HTML frequently based on information in a database. If you do static Web page development, learning to program dynamic pages with SQL is a natural step, and one that greatly expands your capabilities.
SQL was developed in the 1970s to manage large commercial and government databases on room-sized mainframe computers. Today, anyone with a smartphone carries SQL in his pocket in the form of SQLite databases. SQLite is a free, open-source database designed for mobile devices, home PCs, information kiosks and other single-user applications. Its code is extremely compact and efficient, packing most database functions into a single, tiny program. If you write programs and have tackled apps for mobile devices, adding SQLite to your repertoire adds efficient data storage and retrieval capabilities to your programs. It also give you legitimate, real-world SQL experience.
File maintenance, including backups, is crucial for many organizations. In addition to the thousands of individual documents that must be archived, SQL databases are part of daily backups. SQL databases require regular maintenance tasks such as culling or archiving old data, testing database tables to verify the integrity of the data, resizing databases and running reports on the latest sales numbers. If you work in computer operations, these tasks can expose you to SQL on a daily basis.
Even if you have no computer at home, you can pick up SQL experience by taking a database course at your local university, community college or library. Select a course that covers the practical aspects of setting up and using a database and avoid classes that focus on theoretical aspects of database design. Colleges and libraries have their own PCs for students to use, so you can work through problems and gain hands-on experience in a classroom setting.
Chicago native John Papiewski has a physics degree and has been writing since 1991. He has contributed to "Foresight Update," a nanotechnology newsletter from the Foresight Institute. He also contributed to the book, "Nanotechnology: Molecular Speculations on Global Abundance."