5 best resources to learn SQL online

Thumbnail showing a black woman taking notes while looking at the computer's monitor and a text saying 5 best resources to learn SQL sorted by medium

If you work with marketing, it’s likely that you have heard about SQL, and even been told that it could help you in your career. But you may have discarded the idea because the simple thought of “coding” gives you the shivers. Well, fear not. Here you have the best resources to learn SQL I have found to date.

To start with, let me tell you that SQL is definitely something any professional in marketing can learn and benefit from, especially when you work with those pesky spreadsheets. Do you already have some experience with it? In that case, you can read more about how to use SQL in Google Sheets.

If not, imagine how easy your life as a marketer would be if you could Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo out a gigantic table and retrieve the data you need without going row by row, column by column, until you get the record you need.

Video format to learn SQL

Nowadays video is the most common type of medium for online courses. In fact, platforms like LinkedIn Learning only offer their courses in this format. But what if I told you that the following resource dates back to 2012?

Portnov Computer School’s SQL Tutorial for beginners.

If I have to choose one to start with I’ll always pick this tutorial for beginners.  It’s a mini-course, just a total of 4 hours, that covers the basics of SQL. It feels like being back to school and having someone teaching you directly.

Basically, it’s the recording of a few lectures at Portnov Computer School with amazing interaction between the students and the lecturer. While it’s quite old and the audio isn’t at times the best, the foundations of SQL haven’t changed and the instructor, as well as the teaching method, is perfect to start with.

My favorite part is when the professor tells the students the key to learning SQL: practice at home. Also, something to highlight his interest in teaching you the mindset, to train those problem-solving skills you’ll need when working with SQL.

Screenshot of the first lecture in Portnov Computer School's video course to learn SQL with a teacher explaining what non-normalised tables are
Screenshot of the first lecture in Portnov Computer School’s video

You will find other courses with relevant content on their YouTube channel, such as JavaScript, XML, or Agile and Scrum development.  Some may call this methodology old-school, however, you’ve got to choose the one that works best for you at each stage of your journey.

Khan Academy: two videos in one

Although I haven’t deep-dived much into it, so far it seems a great course to recommend. In spite of being a free resource, its extensive coverage of SQL is enough to make it be considered in this list.

In the SQL course in Khan Academy, the format is as follows: with a voice-over explaining each exercise, there are two videos side by side: one with the console and one with the tables. So you can see in real-time the result of each query.

Screenshot of Khan Academy, a resource, to learn SQL, with two videos side by one: one with the console and one with the table
Screenshot of the SQL course in Khan Academy.

In spite of being more visually appealing than the Portnov Computer School’s one, I must admit I lack the interaction and the banter that happens in a classroom, where ideas are developed and all work together to solve the exercises. However, Khan Academy is definitely a resource to check.

Learn SQL with case study exercises, and even storytelling

If you work in marketing, this is when it gets interesting. Most of the courses to learn SQL consist of a potpourri of sample Oracle database schemas. Either they’re HR-related records or lists of university students.

However, there are plenty of other platforms that provide courses with databases that speak your language: purchase orders, signups, conversion rate, etc. Here you have my two favorite ones:

SQL Habit and how to use storytelling to teach

Although it’s not a free resource, it might have the best flow for marketers or product managers to learn SQL. Built on the story of a fictional startup, you’ll learn by facing the same problems these founders have, such as how many users that signed up in our first week converted into customers or what device each signup used.
I know, right? It’s tempting. You can tell SQL Habit is built to make you think by applying practical exercises in real-life situations.

Screenshot one lesson of SQL Habit on calculating the purchase rate
Example of one lesson of SQL Habit on calculating the purchase rate

At the same time, it’s built in the form of a story, so you learn at the same time the founders of this fictional startup navigate the growth of their business. In my opinion, a masterpiece in teaching through storytelling.

Also, it bears mentioning that it includes a practice section and a playground. The first one is a set of exercises based on what you learned. However, what is most interesting is the playground, which incorporates a console to practice outside of the exercises you’ll go through. I recommend using it and trying to be as creative as possible by applying different combinations of what you learn in each lesson.

Screenshot of SQL Habit's playground
In SQL Habit you have a playground to dabble in SQL through practice.

What’s not to love about SQL Habit’s method of combining storytelling with a case study? Recommended through and through.

W3resource, all things SQL you ever dreamed of

For me, it was important to include this resource because, even though it’s not as flashy as some of the previous ones, it focuses on making you learn the fundamentals of relational databases. We talked before about training your mindset to develop problem-solving skills, and this is a good example.

Certainly, the frontend of this website needs some updates, but not so much the content. The W3resource’s SQL tutorials focus heavily on the theoretical part, the different commands and operators, the keywords used, and the data types. 

However, the highlight for me is the gigantic collection of exercises depending on what you want to practice. Is it boolean operators? Aggregates? joins? Subqueries? You name it. For a program highly focused on practice, it goes without saying that it includes a console to perform each exercise.

Screenshot of W3resource's SQL exercise on the use of join, starting with first exercise out of 29 exercises with solution

In addition, whenever you check the solution it comes with a pictorial representation. What does this mean? Well, it’s a visual explanation of how a SQL query communicates with the different tables in a database.

Screenshot of a pictorial representation for a join query in SQL
Pictorial representation for a join query in SQL used in W3resource.

Learn SQL on the go with your phone

This could the title of any landing page or the subject of a cross-selling email. However, it’s a reality for many who don’t have a lot of free time and choose to learn with their phone.

You may be familiar with Duolingo, the language-learning app which through repetitive exercises and gamification teaches you a new language. Well, in this category the winner is Codeacademy.

Codeacademy: learn from the computer or the phone

The reality is that Codeacademy has as many fans as detractors. This interactive platform offers coding lessons in more than a dozen of programming languages. And what’s best, for free!

On the other hand, Codeacademy is primordially a desktop-based platform, despite of the fact that as soon as you start you can switch to mobile. There you can read through small nuggets of theory and do some exercises on the go. In this article, we’ll look only at the mobile version: Codeacademy Go.

Three screenshots of the app Codeacademy Go with theory on the Insert statement and two exercises on Insert statement and Delete statement.
In Codeacademy Go you have some theory and exercises, e.g. data manipulation.

As you may remember, I mentioned before the importance of acquiring that mindset for better problem-solving. Yet, it’s true that you may not learn this in Codeacademy, yet the gamification of the app helps you remember some basic commands.

Certainly, I wouldn’t start this type of course in SQL with commands like DELETE and CREATE. It’s rare to get definition privileges to a database, such as ALTER, let alone manipulation privileges, such as DELETE or UPDATE that can ruin the database.

As a matter of fact, you need the web version to complement. It’s true that it’s very easy to learn by repeating an answer to the same question over an over again using the app, but otherwise you’ll never type the queries. You can consider the on-the-go version as extra support or remedial lessons, but it shouldn’t the only way.

…and 3 extra resources to learn SQL I haven’t tried yet

As with everything in life, things need time. I haven’t yet tested the following two resources to learn SQL, but I must admit they look promising.

SQL Zoo

What SQL Zoo lack’s in visual design, they make up with an extensive list of exercises that are regularly updated. Come on, they have tables on Covid 19. I need to dig deeper, but so far something to look at if you want to learn SQL. This is seems to be more than a wiki and certainly a resource to look into.

Mode

This is not a course per se, but an analyticis and BI platform that offers sereval resources to learn SQL. And again, attention marketers because it contains tons of exercises related to user engagement, validating A/B tests and product usage. Mode SQL tutorial is definitely very complete and will surely attract a wider audience.

W3schools

No, it’s not W3resources, but W3schools. Similar name but different approach. W3schools’ SQL tutorial mix an easy-to-use interface, somehow similar to Codeacademy Go, with an extensive list of exercises. And when I say extensive, I mean huge. This resource should definitely be in anyone’s radar.

Conclusion of learning SQL online

Unlike other websites, I can’t rank these resources and say there’s a winner. What one lacks, the other has. At the same time, cognitive process like learning vary from person to person.

Above all, I think that a combination of all these resources is key for learning, especially if it’s not your main career path. Choose the one that work best with you, and try to apply what you’ve learnt into one of the other tutorails by comparing or trying alternative versions of exercises. 

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