Dear Data Analysts, Learn SQL
I separate my career as a data analyst into two sections, before and after I learned SQL. To me there is no more fundamental skill for a data analyst to have other than the ability to extract and transform data closest to it’s final form.
There are a few key reasons why I think this skill is so important.
For a data analyst that does not know SQL their daily process looks a little something like this.
- Download data in some standard format
- Fix the data to suit their needs using Excel.
When asked to update the data at a later date they go through the entire process again, but when they reach the step to “fix” the data, they get lost on the exact process and logic applied previously. This leaves the process up for interpretation, and therefore inconsistent at each iteration.
With SQL, you have clearly defined the process and logic used to filter and transform the data. There is no room for interpretation as the code itself is the definition. When you need to reproduce the data at a later date it is done by simply re-running the SQL. You can even hand your SQL off to someone else with no familiarity of your logic and they can reproduce too.
Using SQL makes your data more reproduceable and consistent over time.
There are many platforms used to analyze and visual data. All of these platforms typically have their own programming languages or frameworks that you will need to become accustomed to.
But one programming language that is mostly universal across all data analysis platforms, is SQL. There may be slight differences in syntax, depending on database type, but ultimately all variations work in the same way.
There are no libraries or packages to download, or services to run in the background, the language is just universally understood.
Once you have an SQL statement that encapsulates the data you want to analyze, you can take that to any platform which gives you ultimate flexibility on what data analysis platform you will use.
Ease of Learning
SQL is by far the easiest programming language I have ever learned. If you have no prior coding experience, SQL is a fantastic place to start.
Adding SQL to your skillset demonstrates your ability to understand programming at it’s core which can be then translated to learning more complex languages such as Python.
The easiest path to show your willingness to learn a programming language in the data analytics field is to learn SQL.
In summary, and I can’t tell data analysts this enough, it is in your best interest to learn SQL. Knowing SQL will make your data analysis more reproduceable, enable you to use a variety of analytics platforms, and is really easy to learn if you are willing.