What Does It Take to Be an SQL Developer Today?

By Robert Half on March 26, 2019 at 2:00pm

If you’re thinking of becoming a Structured Query Language developer (SQL — sometimes pronounced “sequel”), now is a great time to make the move. These professionals are in high demand as companies push to implement their digital transformation strategies and become data-driven organizations.

What exactly is an SQL developer? The position requires you to design, create and maintain databases. They’re responsible for all aspects of this, including:

  • Designing database tables and structures
  • Creating views, functions and stored procedures
  • Writing optimized SQL queries for integration with other applications
  • Creating database triggers for use in automation
  • Maintaining data quality and overseeing database security

It’s a job that gets even more complex as databases turn into data lakes, and you need to keep your skills sharp. But if you have the right experience and certifications, employers will beat a path to your door.

Here’s an overview of the abilities and background needed to step into the SQL database developer role.

Programming experience

If you haven’t worked with SQL before, you’ll see it’s a relatively straightforward declarative language in which you write queries that either modify the database or retrieve records.

Ideally, professional SQL developers should have experience working in a development environment like Oracle SQL Developer. Other programming requirements vary across organizations. For example, you might be supporting applications written in Java, C++ and C#, so knowledge of these will help you collaborate with other teams. When working with MySQL, you almost certainly need to have experience with PHP. Likewise, familiarity with the .NET framework is useful, especially if you’ll be specializing in Microsoft SQL Server.

A background in Unix is another big plus. You should be skilled at command line, so understanding Bash or Windows batch scripts is another way to help your resume stand out.

Database knowledge

Specialization is often key in getting a top SQL database developer job. Oracle remains the world’s most popular database environment, mainly due to its support of larger data structures.

The open source MySQL is prevalent in web development, while many other businesses prefer to work with Microsoft SQL Server. Aim to become an expert in one system rather than dabbling in multiple database environments.

As an SQL developer, you’ll need to have hands-on experience with production databases. You should be able to:

  • Create databases with efficient structures
  • Write optimized queries, views and triggers for integration with other applications
  • Maintain high standards of data quality and integrity
  • Understand issues related to network performance and security

An SQL developer should also have a background in:

  • Reporting and business intelligence tools like Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) and SAP Crystal Reports
  • NoSQL database systems, such as MongoDB and CouchDB
  • Big data technologies like Hadoop and Spark
  • Cloud services like Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure
  • The Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), specifically Scrum and Agile methodology

Bolstering your knowledge with a certification can be advantageous. Two recommended designations for the SQL database developer role are the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer: Data Management and Analytics or the Oracle Database PL/SQL Developer Certified Professional.

Soft skills

Employers value soft skills in IT team members, with communication being one of the most important. This position requires working with colleagues across the IT department — from applications developers to network engineers — and with third-party vendors, such as cloud service providers.

Additionally, digital transformation and the advent of data analytics sometimes require SQL developers to collaborate with experts from other business units. It’s not uncommon for marketing, operations and other teams to come to you with questions or concerns regarding their data needs, such as data capture and running business intelligence reports.

If your goal is to become an SQL developer, one path to grow the skills you need is to start as a database administrator (DBA). Those coming from a software engineering background probably already know a little about writing SQL queries. Focus on gaining practical experience with database environments like Oracle or MySQL, and try designing your own databases from scratch.

Landing an SQL developer job could be a lucrative career move. Find out the latest starting salary projections in the Robert Half Salary Guide.

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