5 Reasons Why You Need SQL

Some people may decide not to learn SQL because of something they may have heard, or just assumed, that is completely untrue. Myths such as these can stand in the way of people moving ahead in their careers. There are number of these myths that hold people back, but I would like to discuss just four of them.

1. SQL is a programming language and I am not a programmer. Although SQL is a language, it is not a programming language in the way you are probably thinking. Most computer languages are procedural languages. To use them, a programmer creates a procedure in which a series of instructions are written in a step-by-step manner to cause a computer to perform some action. The programmer must understand what is going on at a deep level in order to generate the correct sequence of instructions.

SQL is not like that. It is not a procedural language. It is called a non-procedural language because there is no need to write a procedure. With SQL all you need to do is write a statement that tells the computer what action you want it to perform. The DBMS figures out the details of how to do that, then goes ahead and does it.

2. SQL is only for people who have a programming job. Although it is true that information technology professionals have the most to do with databases, these days practically everyone in an organization has some exposure to them and may need information contained in them in order to do their jobs. You may not work with a database every day, but occasions will arise when you will need a fact contained in a database and there is no IT professional available to obtain it for you. Anyway, you should be able to perform basic database retrieval operations for yourself. It makes you a more valuable employee.

3. You need to be some kind of brainiac to understand SQL. There is a mystique surrounding computers in general and SQL in particular that they are beyond the comprehension of ordinary people. This is particularly untrue about SQL, which consists of simple statements that are very similar to ordinary English-language sentences. If you can compose and write down a sentence, you could just as easily write an SQL statement that would perform a query.

4. Knowing SQL won’t be of any value to me. This is the biggest myth of all. Our world today is totally dependent upon computers and the data stored within them. A lot of jobs will become obsolete and disappear within the next ten years, but jobs associated with information technology will not be among them. Learning SQL could be one of the most effective things that you could do to guarantee your future employability.

The Road to Business Intelligence

In1965, Gordon Moore wrote an article for an electronics industry magazine where he noticed that computer memory manufacturers were doubling the number of memory cells that they could fabricate on a single silicon chip about every two years. This translated to the fact that every two years, you could get about twice as much computing power for the same amount of dollars as you could get two years before. This is the hallmark of exponential growth.

Moore’s Law has been in operation now for over 50 years and still holds true. That is why the supercomputers we carry around in our pockets and purses, called phones, have the capabilities that they do.

Back when Gordon Moore made his famous observation, there were no iPhones, tablets, or personal computers. At that time a computer filled an entire room much bigger than the room you are probably in right now.

One of the most common tasks in business in those days, as it is now, was to do financial analysis with an electronic spreadsheet. I worked with a company that offered such a spreadsheet for IBM mainframe computers. They rented it to their clients for $25,000 a month, and that was in the days when $25,000 was worth a lot more than it is now.

Personal computers appeared on the scene in 1975, but were considered to be toys by IBM and the other mainframe manufacturers of the day, and were ignored. In many ways, they were toys because the programs that early hobbyists wrote for them were not particularly business oriented.

That changed in 1979 when Dan Bricklin’s Software Arts released VisiCalc for the Apple II. The program was immediately recognized as so valuable, that it not only justified its purchase price — all by itself it justified the purchase of the computer that it ran on as well. It was the world’s first killer app.

After a brief time in the sun, VisiCalc was superseded by Lotus 1–2–3, which had more features and ran on the IBM PC. Lotus 1–2–3 was later displaced by Microsoft Excel, which ran under the new Windows operating system as well as on the Apple Macintosh. Excel is still at the top of the spreadsheet heap today, but the market has evolved.

Today, organizations have data stored in a variety of formats that have been created by different programs. In many cases, they want to pull data from different sources, combine it in a meaningful way, and present the result in a way that brings out trends and emphasizes what is important. This field is called Business Intelligence or BI. A number of companies worldwide have been active in BI for many years. SAP is one example and SAS is another.

BI products have tended to be quite costly, earning high profit margins for their purveyors. However, Moore’s law has now become a factor in the BI marketplace. Microsoft has recently evolved extensions to its ubiquitous Excel spreadsheet product into a new cloud-based BI product called Power BI.

One way to look at Moore’s law is to say that every two years you get twice as much computing power for the same cost. There is another way, however. That is to say that every two years you get the same power for half the cost. The ultimate result of that way of looking at it is that commodities that are subject to Moore’s Law eventually become free. This is essentially true of hard disk drives, where you can now get a drive holding trillions of bytes for well under $100. It has also come to business intelligence in the form of Microsoft’s Power BI, which is literally free. No cost whatsoever. Nada.

Microsoft is using Power BI as a lure to pull businesses into their ecosystem of products. Power BI is free, but once you have it, you are going to want the other Microsoft products that are tightly connected to it.

Moore’s Law rolls on far beyond what Gordon Moore or anyone else at that time ever thought it would. We today are the beneficiaries. If you run a business of any kind today, take a look at Microsoft’s Power BI. The price is right. You might also be interested in my course on Power BI from O’Reilly Media, titled Getting Started with Microsoft Power BI. In addition, subscribe to my blog at allengtaylor.com.

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