Good short qualifications for MS SQL Server?
April 12, 2019 1:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for data analysis work. Prospects are good - the couple of interviews I have had didn't get me a position but suggested I was in the top few. However, there's a big gap that keeps coming up - neither my previous work or my academic experience really had any SQL involved, and it seems to be key in many advertised positions. Can you recommend a course in MS SQL Server that would get me a well-recognized/regarded qualification?

- I know the basics of SQL commands and relational databases - I went through GalaXQL carefully, and have done some reading and tinkering with data relations. But it's not very convincing to say in an interview you expect to "pick it up", and quite a few companies ask for SQL Server specifically.

- There are various courses out there for SQL Server. I would particularly like to know if any short course providers are a bit of an industry standard, or whether I would be equally served by picking at semi-random from Udemy et al and listing that as a qualification.
posted by solarion to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
For me - as somebody currently doing a lot of SQL Server work and who occasionally helps recruit others with similar skills - I am not aware of any particular qualification that would impress me. I'd be more impressed by somebody with a portfolio of work who could talk about how they put it together. A random google of "Top 50 SQL Server Interview Questions & Answers" gives my a list of questions where I only know about half the answers because the other set represent things I have not yet needed to be personally concerned about. It is important to know a broad set of concepts about the environment but the ability to solve problems that you don't know effectively is equally important. For my part, I might give show somebody a piece of code an ask them to explain what they think it did and how they might improve it. Or I might give them an example of a problem and then ask them to design an outline solution: not the nitty-gritty code but the general approach.

Making a portfolio, when you have not previously had to do any work involving the language - is not quite so easy. You could build your own application for something - or maybe you could just go through a set of example exercises and be prepared to talk about how you solved them. In both cases, the most interesting part of the question would be how a candidate responded to a situation where they did not know the answer.

SQL itself seems to be one of those topics that don't lend themselves very well to teaching by coursework. Despite the ubiquity and importance of the language it seems that its relative simplicity makes many course designers look down their noses at it - for example out of the 180 or so reserved keywords - only about a third are in common use and most of them are included in fairly standard structures.
posted by rongorongo at 3:24 AM on April 12, 2019

Is there a SQL Saturday near you?
posted by oceanjesse at 4:43 AM on April 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Microsoft does offer certifications in SQL Server (and just about everything else). In my experience, these require a level of proficiency that's pretty basic and I think recruiters think more of them than IT managers, but for your situation, its something concrete to put on the table. And also a guide to which courses meet a reasonable standard.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:20 AM on April 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm an analytics director and hire data analysts. I don't put a lot of weight on certifications for things like SQL; I'm really looking for experience. HOWEVER, whether experience with SQL is a dealbreaker really depends on what other skillsets you are bringing to the table. For example, if someone comes in with a solid quant background and good, demonstrated experienced in something like SAS or R, and they have familiarity with SQL, they pick it up quickly enough to get along just fine in our environment. If they have more GUI BI tool experience (Tableau, Power BI, QlikView, etc.) and familiarity-but-not-experience with SQL, that could work, but I currently have a lot of people with SQL development backgrounds, and could use more BI tool experience on the team. If their background is primarily Excel, it is less likely they will be able to contribute to the team.

All of this is to point out that hiring into a team of analysts isn't just about getting an exact fit with the job description; it is also fitting the skills that the applicants bring into the skillmix of the current team, and understanding how the skills they have currently make it more or less likely they will pick up what they need as they go. So maybe lack of experience with SQL is an issue, and maybe it is something else that you can't see.

But given that you can't peer inside the black box of hiring, I think your strategy of getting some kind of certification makes sense. My take as a hiring manager is that I would put more weight on the Microsoft testing than Udemy courses (whether that is fair or right or not - that is just my hot take). Possibly even taking just the Querying Data with Transact-SQL test from Microsoft rather than doing the whole cert would be enough to demonstrate some skill.

In any case, if you're getting interviews, that means things are going really well! Hang in there, and the right fit will come along soon!
posted by jeoc at 7:08 AM on April 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

Agreed with jeoc on all counts, though I've never met or worked with anyone who has any sort of certification as far as I know, either when I'm hiring or just as far as general colleagues. The thing about SQL is that if you know a little SQL or other query language (agreed: non-gui), picking up more as needed is easy. Many very advanced SQL developers and admins have literally never opened a book, thanks to Google and other people's code.

I rarely hear/see/do much in the way of skills-vetting for SQL in the sense of "okay, write me a query right now" or "what kind of join would you use here?" (I mean, I *have* been asked this but my answer was "oh, I left-join everything unless that's not working, and then I google to figure out what to use instead" and I got the job). People tend to discuss it in the sense of "what have you done in SQL" and that answer might be "I administered, customized, and wrote reports for -software that uses SQL-" or it may be "I've been exposed to it periodically while supporting X application" or it may be "I haven't used it at work but wanted to learn it so I wrote myself a thing to analyze episodes of House Hunters International" and they will ask you a few questions about how it works to see if you can talk about it like you actually have had that level of exposure.

Tutorials can be good sources of structured data to play with, if you're not currently working in an environment where you have access to some. But you could literally download SQL and SSMS and hand-key or Excel-import data pools from around your own house - catalog some of your books, inventory your pantry, make some tables about your favorite TV shows - and then challenge yourself to query that information in different ways and google how to do the various tasks.

The lack of any real certification structure actually means nobody really knows how much they know compared to anyone else, which I think we all use to our advantage in the bluffing game. It does mean that I - who consider myself not-a-Developer but I am writing ad hoc queries and doing inadvisable things in SQL every day and have for 15+ years - still get my mind blown on a regular basis learning stuff the person next to me considers kindergarten shit, and vice versa. (This is also true about Excel, which has become shockingly powerful while I wasn't looking, and so I do agree with the sentiment that knowing Excel is entirely different from knowing SQL, but I know Excel experts who can do in an hour what will take me half a day to get working. My career advice is learn both and know when to use which one and how to combine them because that too is incredibly powerful.)
posted by Lyn Never at 8:29 AM on April 12, 2019

SQL Saturday is targeted more at intermediate practitioners looking to learn advanced skills on mature technology or basic skills on new technology. It’s not going to be super helpful for someone new to SQL.

You can spin up a free account for SQL Server on Azure and follow the SQL Server tutorials on MSDN. Try out things not available in the SQLite dialect (which is what you saw in the GalaXQL tutorial) including windowing functions, common table expressions, etc. This should give you enough to make conversation in an interview.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:31 AM on April 12, 2019

On the off-chance that you don't know...

You can download SqlServer Express for free here.

You can download a number potentially useful things here. This includes SQL Server Management Studio which has most of the features of the third-party tools. It also includes various tutorials. I imagine the tutorials still include a sample database though I didn't go deep enough to be sure.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:23 AM on April 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

And, of course, there are dialects. There are SQL things in Oracle and DB2 that aren't in other RDMS, and vise versa.

It also helps to know the name of things: difference between a correlated and non-correlated subquery, what a Common Table Expression is, what is cardinality and its impact on index design and query optimization, and why are include columns used on a unique index.

This ties in with advice above saying it's more important to be able to be conversant than expert.
posted by forthright at 6:33 PM on April 12, 2019

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