August 30, 2022

Are SQL Certifications Worth It? (We Asked 15 Hiring Managers)

Want to work in data? Then you might be wondering: Do I need a SQL certification to qualify for a data job? 

The answer to this question can be confusing.

To start, various SQL certification programs will make it seem like having a certificate is paramount to getting a data job. Also, some “experts” will tell you SQL isn’t even a necessary data science skill.

So what’s the real answer?

Not to worry. We have lots of experience in this particular area, so we can spot false claims from a mile away.

In this article, we’ll dispel some of the myths regarding SQL certification, shed light on how hiring managers view these certificates, and back up our claims with actual data.

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

Do you need to learn SQL? 

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

The short answer? Yes! SQL is a critical skill for working with data. It may be a decades-old language, but don’t be fooled. It’s as relevant as ever.

In fact, we recently did some number-crunching and discovered that SQL is still the most commonly used programming language in data science. It’s even ahead of Python or R!

So you definitely do need to learn SQL. That begs more questions, though:

  • Do you need SQL certification of some kind? 
  • Is certification helpful when applying for jobs?

Let’s address these questions now.

Do you need SQL certification for a job? It depends.

We’ve established that knowledge of SQL is a must. But do you need an actual certificate that proves this knowledge? It depends on your desired role in data science. 

When You Don’t Need a Certificate

Are you planning to work as a data analyst, data engineer, statistician, or data scientist? 

Then, the answer is: No, you do not need a SQL certificate. You most certainly need SQL skills for these jobs, but certification won’t be required. In fact, it probably won’t even help.

Here’s why. . .

What Hiring Managers Have to Say About SQL Certificates

I recently interviewed data science hiring managers, recruiters, and other professionals for a data science career guide. I asked them about the skills and qualifications they wanted to see in good job candidates for data science roles.

Throughout my 200 pages of interview transcripts, the term “SQL” is mentioned a lot. It’s clearly a skill that most hiring managers want to see. But the terms “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.

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 one way or the other.

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

Why Aren’t Data Science Recruiters Interested in Certificates?

Certificates in the industry are widely available and heavily promoted. But most data science employers aren’t impressed with them. Why not? 

The short answer is that there’s no “standard” certification for SQL. Plus, there are so many different online and offline SQL certification options that employers struggle to determine whether these credentials actually mean anything.

Rather than relying on a single piece of paper that may or may not equate to actual skills, it’s easier for employers to simply look at an applicant’s project portfolio. Tangible proof of real-world experience in the industry is a more reliable representation of SQL skills compared to certification. 

That’s why Dataquest has students complete comprehensive projects after each interactive SQL course. This creates a skills showcase you can present to employers during the job hunt. You can start for free, and you’ll be writing real code within minutes of signing up.

The Exception

For most roles in data science, a SQL certificate isn’t necessary. But there are exceptions to this rule. 

For example, if you want to work in database administration as opposed to data science, a certificate might be required. Likewise, if you’re looking at a very specific company or industry, SQL certification could be helpful.  

There are many “flavors” of SQL tied to different database systems and tools. So, there may be official certifications associated with the specific type 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, earning 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.

Most Data Science Jobs Don’t Require Certification

Let’s be clear, though. For the vast majority of data science roles, specific certifications are not usually required. The different variations of SQL rarely differ too much from “base” SQL. Thus, most employers won’t be concerned about whether you’ve mastered a particular brand’s proprietary tweaks.

As a general rule, recruiters just want to see proof that you’ve got the fundamental SQL skills 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 mastery.

Is a SQL Certification Worth it for Data Science?

It depends. Ask yourself: Is the certification program teaching you valuable skills or just giving you a bullet point for your LinkedIn? The former can be worth it. The latter? Not so much. 

The price of certification is also an important consideration. Not many people have thousands to spend on a SQL certification. Even if you do, though, there’s no good reason to pay that much. 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.

YouTube video player for JFlukJudHrk

Can You Teach Yourself SQL?

Learning SQL on your own can be challenging. 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 work – 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. Instead, we’ll walk you through the more complex SQL queries that are a part of everyday data science work in the real world.

What SQL Certificate Is Best?

As 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 SQL certifications available:

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!

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.

This is a great option if you’re applying to database administrator jobs at companies that use Microsoft SQL Server. The Azure certification is the newest and most relevant certification related to Microsoft SQL Server.

This could be a good certification for anyone who’s interested in database jobs at companies that use Oracle.

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 (think Microsoft SQL Server) rather than being aimed at building general SQL knowledge. Thus, they’re best for those who know they’ll need training in a specific type of database for a job as a database administrator.

Are university, edX, or Coursera certifications in SQL too good to be true? Unfortunately, yes. 

Interested in a more general SQL certification? You could get certified through a university-affiliated program. These certification programs are available either online or in-person. For example, there’s a Stanford program at EdX. And programs affiliated with UC Davis and the University of Michigan can be found at Coursera.

These programs appear to offer some of the prestige of a university degree without the expense or the time commitment. Unfortunately, hiring managers don’t usually 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.

Why Employers Aren’t Impressed with SQL Certificates from Universities

Employers know that a Stanford certificate and a Stanford degree, for example, are very different things. Even if these certificate programs use video lectures from real courses, they rarely include rigorous testing or project-based assessments. 

Often, they don’t even do anything to verify student identities! Recruiters are very aware of these practices.

The Flawed University Formula for Teaching SQL

Most online university certificate programs follow a basic formula:

  • Watch video lectures to learn the material.
  • 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 other learners in your cohort.

This format is immensely popular because it is the best 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. 

It’s easy and profitable. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily effective, though, and employers know it. 

With many of these certification providers, it’s possible to complete an online programming certification without ever having written or run a line of code! So you can see why a certification like this doesn’t hold much weight with recruiters. 

How Can I Learn the SQL Skills Employers Want?

Getting hands-on experience with writing and running SQL queries is imperative, though. So is working with real data. The best way to learn 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. This is hands-down the best way to learn SQL.

After each course, you’ll be asked to synthesize your new learning into a longer-form guided project. This is something that you can customize and put on your resume and GitHub once you’re finished!

dataquest sql learning platform looks like this
This is how we teach SQL at Dataquest

Learn SQL the right way!

  • Write real queries
  • Work with real data
  • Right in your browser!

Why passively watch video lectures when you can learn by doing?

Charlie Custer

About the author

Charlie Custer

Charlie is a student of data science, and also a content marketer at Dataquest. In his free time, he's learning to mountain bike and making videos about it.

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