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Robert Johns | 31 Mar, 2023

What Does an SQL Developer Do? | Why Learn SQL in 2023

An SQL developer is a software professional whose primary focus is writing SQL code (Structured Query Language) to manage and maintain databases within relational database management systems (RDBMS).

And while there are several flavors of SQL depending on the RDBMS you use, there is only one SQL standard that’s used by the most popular RDBMS, including MySQL, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and PostgreSQL.

But what does an SQL developer do? In this guide, we'll answer that question along with others, like what is SQL development, and how can you get the skills required for a job in database development?

What Is an SQL Developer?

An SQL developer is a professional who combines database engineering and programming in SQL to store, retrieve, and manipulate data. Depending on their skills and experience, they may be familiar with various RDBMS, like Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL or MySQL.

In this article, we're not going to focus on specific database engines, but rather we'll focus on general SQL developer skills, what an SQL developer does, and how an SQL developer might work alongside other programmers, artists, and UI experts to make applications or websites.

The core work of an SQL developer rotates around designing relational databases and writing code to store, read and update the information in those databases. Today, databases are used for both online and offline services, so writing resilient SQL code that can retrieve and update information reliably and quickly is essential.

Other key duties of an SQL developer include ensuring that data is secure by implementing data backup and recovery strategies and working with software developers and data analysts to develop database-driven applications and reports.

What Is a Relational Database (RDBMS)?

A relational database uses tables to store data, making it easy to link data across tables by defining relationships between them.

Relational databases are incredibly common today, but that hasn't always been the case. Many older databases used a flat file system that could be described as being like a paper address book or filing cabinet.

Relational databases make it easier to store large volumes of information and to perform quick, granular searches.

For example, if you had an online store and used a flat-file database to keep track of customer orders by appending each order to the relevant customer's record, it would take a long time to search through all the customers to answer the question of "how many times did we sell product X in the last three months".

With a relational database and the power of SQL, products, orders, and customers are kept in separate tables, each of which can be searched quickly. This makes it relatively easy to get the answer to questions such as:

  • What are the email addresses of all the customers who have bought product X?
  • How many times have we sold product X in the last 3 months?
  • What other products are usually bought by someone who buys product X?

What Are SQL Developer Job Responsibilities?

SQL developers focus on planning and designing SQL databases, including mapping out tables, columns, indexes, and field types. They also handle ongoing maintenance and write the SQL code for applications or websites to interface with the database.

Much of their work involves using CRUD (Create, Read, Update, and Delete) SQL commands to perform common tasks. These are the four main data operations behind actions like posting a blog article or updating medical or financial records.

Some of the main SQL developer responsibilities include:

  • Defining the structure of databases
  • Writing and maintaining SQL queries
  • Optimizing the performance of large or complex databases
  • Developing security protocols to protect databases
  • Troubleshooting ongoing issues
  • Collaborating with other developers

While some SQL developers focus entirely on the back end, creating code for other developers to interface with, many SQL developers also have knowledge of other programming languages and use that to create front ends or dashboards for their code.

For example, many browser-based dashboards use Bootstrap templates for the front end and MySQL or MariaDB on the back end. An SQL specialist may not have the depth of UI/UX knowledge of a front-end developer, but they can still produce functional and visually appealing dashboards using modern development frameworks.

How to Become an SQL Developer in 2023

Are you curious about becoming an SQL developer but aren't sure whether the job would be right for you? Well, a good starting point is to ask some recent computer science graduates or developers who use databases often about their thoughts. Let’s look at some good questions you could ask them.

  • What is SQL experience worth in terms of finding work in your area?
  • How much do you use SQL compared to other tools in your job?
  • What sort of problems do you solve on a day-to-day basis?
  • How hard did you find it to learn SQL?

If you’re still excited to become an SQL developer after having these conversations, you’ll need to turn your attention to creating a game plan for learning the right skills. 

What Skills Do You Need To Become an SQL Developer?

You’ve probably guessed that you need to learn and become proficient in SQL to become an SQL developer, but how should you go about this? Well, it helps to consider the following steps.

  • Learn SQL commands: Learn DDL, DML, DCL, TCL, and DQL commands
  • Learn to write SQL queries: Create SQL queries to solve real-world problems. 
  • Learn to use an RDBMS: Become familiar with MySQL, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, or PostgreSQL.
  • Learn advanced SQL: Focus on various advanced topics, including joins, subqueries, stored procedures, triggers, and more.
  • Gain experience: Work on real-world projects or try to land an internship.
  • Continuous learning: Stay up-to-date with the latest SQL developments by attending conferences and participating in online communities.
  • Earn an SQL certification: This can demonstrate your proficiency and dedication to the field.

Once you have SQL under your belt, you’ll also want to consider focusing on the following areas to ensure you can develop the skills required to apply for SQL developer roles.

  • Database design
  • Command line proficiency
  • SQL for a specific RDBMS, like PostgreSQL, MS SQL, or MySQL
  • An understanding of data types and APIs
  • Basic programming skills related to your desired industry or use-case
  • Common tools used by database developers

Many of these skills can be learned simply by working on a few portfolio websites or apps. However, taking a structured approach to learning SQL is a good idea because there are many pitfalls.

For example, relational databases can be quite forgiving, meaning it's perfectly possible to create a database by making a few tables and adding fields with very little thought to how they relate to each other or how they'll be used.

And if the database will only hold only a small amount of data, you can get away with a badly planned design. However, if it grows to hold hundreds of thousands of records, performance will suffer, and queries could take a very long time. This is not good!

In 2023, some of the skills we’ve listed above may prove to be more essential than others. For example, many graphical user interfaces (GUIs) are available to simplify database management, meaning you may install a database engine, create a database, and write SQL without ever loading up a command line or terminal.

However, many tasks can be completed more quickly on the command line if you know what you're doing. Taking the time to learn Unix-based BASH commands with Linux or learning your way around PowerShell on Windows will help you go from novice to power user and power user to proficient developer that little bit more quickly.

Of course, the bulk of the work an SQL developer does will involve dealing with the databases themselves. In addition to using raw SQL, it's worth learning how to use tools such as Oracle SQL Developer to browse databases, visualize the relationship between tables, and put together queries using the visual aids offered by the IDE.

Those who are considering learning MySQL or MariaDB may also find PHPMyAdmin useful for exploring databases in their browser, and Microsoft provides its own suite of MS SQL Developer Tools. Whichever route you take, it also helps to consider some of the best books about SQL to supplement your skills and to act as reference materials.

Which Skills Can You Learn to Complement SQL?

One of the best ways to impress at an interview for an SQL developer position is to build a portfolio to showcase your SQL developer skills. To help you stand out, you may also consider learning a popular programming language like Python, Java, C++, or Ruby.

Not all SQL developers will be strong programmers in other languages, and it is possible to specialize in databases without doing a lot of traditional programming. However, knowing how to program in another language is useful for several reasons.

  • It allows you to make apps or websites to show off your skills
  • It helps you understand what programmers will want out of your database
  • You can write scripts to test your database more easily

One of the benefits of learning to become an SQL developer is that you can overlap your skills with complementary fields like web development. And with many websites using the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP), mastering SQL with an RDBMS like MySQL means you'll have an in-demand skill you use immediately. 

If you're unsure which programming language you'd like to learn, consider the type of application you'd like to write and the hardware it will run on. Java is a popular choice for those who want to write programs that run on embedded systems or if you want to write cross-platform applications because it's highly portable.

Thanks to its easy-to-learn syntax, Python is popular with data scientists, allowing them to easily write scripts that get the job done. And although C++ is an older language, it’s very versatile and often used for desktop applications and games due to its high performance.

Many low code/no code solutions are also available for SQL developers in 2023 to interface with databases. Even if you’re a skilled developer in multiple languages, you’ll probably use some low-code/no-code tools in your day-to-day work. That said, programming skills are still useful because they allow you to write your own code when you want to do something outside the scope of these tools.


So there you have it; you now know that an SQL developer is a modern hybrid of a database engineer and software developer that uses SQL to manipulate data, build applications, and create database solutions.

If you’ve made it this far, you will have also learned that the day-to-day responsibilities of an SQL developer include writing and modifying SQL code, developing and maintaining databases, troubleshooting, implementing security measures, optimizing database performance, and collaborating with other developers.

Finally, this article also covered the skills you need to learn to become an SQL developer, including basic and advanced SQL, using an RDBMS, hands-on experience, and earning an SQL certification. We also touched on additional skills, like database design, command-line skills, and learning complementary programming languages.

Want to upskill by learning a new language? Check out:

How To Learn Python


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By Robert Johns

Technical Editor for | 15+ Years in Python, Java, SQL, C++, C#, JavaScript, Ruby, PHP, .NET, MATLAB, HTML & CSS, and more... 10+ Years in Networking, Cloud, APIs, Linux | 5+ Years in Data Science | 2x PhDs in Structural & Blast Engineering

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