January 2, 2023

Why Learn SQL in 2023 (Analyzing 72,000 Job Listings)

Why learn sql

Why do you need to learn SQL?

  • SQL is used everywhere
  • SQL is in high demand because so many companies use it
  • SQL is still the most popular language for data work in 2023

SQL is really old. There, I said it.

SQL dates back 50 years when Edgar Codd (an IBM computer scientist) suggested a new system for organizing data in databases. Shortly thereafter, SQL was born.

Since then, it’s seen world-wide adoption.

But why would someone who wants to become a data professional learn this “ancient” programming language in 2023? Why not spend your time mastering Python or R, or focusing on “sexier” data skills, like deep learning, Scala, or Spark?

Yes, knowing the fundamentals of more general languages like Python or R is critical. However, ignoring SQL will make it much harder to get a job in data.

Here are three key reasons why you absolutely need to learn SQL in 2023.

1. SQL Is Everywhere

Virtually all big tech companies use SQL. Uber, Netflix, Airbnb — the list goes on. Even Fortune 500 companies that have built their own high-performance database systems (Facebook, Google, Amazon) still frequently use SQL to query data and perform analyses.

Companies using SQL

And it’s not just tech companies, either. Virtually any company that relies on large amounts of data uses SQL. A quick job search on LinkedIn will show you that more companies are looking for SQL skills than are looking for Python or R skills.

SQL may be old, but it’s everywhere.

Here’s a real-life example of the importance of SQL from one of our former students . . .

Vicknesh got his first job as a data analyst and quickly found himself using SQL daily: “SQL is so pervasive; it permeates everything here. It’s like the SQL syntax persists through time and space. Everything uses SQL or a derivative of SQL.”


Vicknesh completed Dataquest’s interactive courses, which took him from chemistry teacher to a data analyst.

2. SQL Is in Demand

If you want to get a job in data, you should focus on the skills employers actually want. To figure this out, we did some digging.

All Data Roles

To demonstrate the importance of SQL for data-related jobs, I analyzed more than 72,000 job listings on Indeed, looking at key skills mentioned in job posts with “data” in the title.

Data jobs listing SQL

As we can see, SQL is the most in-demand skill among all jobs in data, appearing in 45.4% of job postings.

Interestingly, the proportion of data jobs listing SQL has been increasing! I performed this same analysis multiple times over the years, and here’s what I found:

  • 2017: 35.7% (SQL #1)
  • 2021: 42.7% (SQL #1)
  • 2022: 45.4% (SQL #1)

Data Analyst Jobs

If you’re looking for your first job in data, it turns out knowing SQL is even more critical.

Most entry-level jobs in data are data analyst roles, so I analyzed all those on Indeed as well:

Data analyst listings

For data analyst roles, SQL is again the most in-demand skill, listed in a whopping 61% of job posts.

For data analyst roles on Indeed, SQL appears as follows:

  • 1.7 times more than Python
  • 2.5 times more than R
  • 5.8 times more than machine learning
  • 22.5 times more than Spark

If you want to become a data analyst, learning SQL should be at the top of your to-do list.

Other Advanced Data Jobs

In fact, even if you’re interested in more advanced roles, SQL skills are still vital.

I performed the same analysis on “Data Scientist” and “Data Engineer” job postings.

Data Engineer

Data engineer job listings

Even for data engineering, SQL is the top skill, listed in 73.4% of job postings.

For data engineer roles on Indeed, SQL appears as follows:

  • Slightly more than Python
  • 1.6 times more than Spark
  • 3 times more than machine learning

Data Scientist

SQL and data science

SQL isn’t the most-listed skill for a data scientist, but it still occupies 64.7% of job listings.

That means that even if you’ve already mastered Python, you’re going to miss out on 3 out of 5 data scientist job opportunities unless you’ve got SQL skills on your resume, too.

Long story short: yes, you need to learn SQL for any role in the data science industry.

It will not only make you more qualified for these jobs, it will also set you apart from other candidates who’ve only focused on the “sexy” stuff, like machine learning in Python.

If you’re interested in becoming a data analyst, data engineer, or data scientist, Dataquest offers all-in-one course paths designed to take you from beginner to job-ready in less than a year.

3. SQL Is Still the Top Language for Data Work

SQL is one of the most-used languages in the entire tech industry!

According to Stack Overflow’s 2022 developer survey, SQL eclipses even Python in terms of popularity. In fact, it’s the third-most-popular programming language among all professional developers:

Most used languages

But we’re concerned specifically with jobs within the field of data science, so let’s filter things a little further.

In the complete dataset that Stack Overflow released here, we can see that among developers who work with data (including data scientists, data analysts, data engineers, etc.), about 70% use SQL, compared to 61.7% who use Python.

In other words: SQL is the most-used language in data science, according to the 8,786 data professionals who responded to Stack Overflow’s survey.

Despite lots of hype around NOSQL, Hadoop, and other technologies, SQL remains the most popular language for data work — and one of the most popular languages for developers of all kinds.

YouTube video player for JFlukJudHrk

So, What’s the Best way to Learn SQL?

Now that we know why we should learn SQL, the obvious question is how?

There are literally thousands of SQL courses online, but most of them don’t prepare you to use SQL in the real world. The best way to illustrate this is to look at the queries they teach you to write:

The way most courses teach SQL

The queries above demonstrate the complexity of the SQL taught at the end of SQL courses by three of the more-popular online learning sites. The problem is that real-world SQL doesn’t look like that. Real-world SQL looks like this:

What SQL actually looks like

When you’re answering business questions with data, you often write SQL queries that need to combine data from many tables and wrangle it into its final form.

The end result is students finding themselves unprepared for the jobs they want, just like this recent post from a data science forum:

What We’re Doing About It

Here at Dataquest, we believe that SQL competency is a key skill for anyone who wants to get a job in data.

We’re not suggesting you learn SQL instead of Python or R; rather, we want you to learn SQL as your second language and become familiar with writing high-level queries.

We understand that learning SQL is incredibly important for data science, and that’s why we offer a number of interactive SQL courses. Here are two from our data analyst and data scientist paths:

Our data engineering path also includes a couple of unique courses:

We’ve also put together a downloadable SQL Cheat Sheet as a useful reference for the SQL basics.

We write out interactive courses to equip our students with the skills they need at the level they’ll need. You won’t spend time watching videos — instead, you’ll be writing your first queries in minutes, and you’ll be on your way to mastering the most important data skill.

While we start from zero, our courses go beyond the basics so you can become a SQL master. For example, the “real-life” SQL image above comes from our SQL Intermediate course.

You can sign up and complete the first lesson in each course for free, and we encourage you to try them out and let us know what you think.

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?

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

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

We Love SQL!

I hope I’ve convinced you that mastering SQL is key to starting your career in data. While it’s easy to get distracted by the latest and greatest language or framework, learning SQL will pay dividends on your path to breaking into the data industry.

It might just be the most important language you learn.

Celeste Grupman

About the author

Celeste Grupman

Celeste is the Director of Operations at Dataquest. She is passionate about creating affordable access to high-quality skills training for students across the globe.

Learn data skills for free

Headshot Headshot

Join 1M+ learners

Try free courses