Main image of article SQL Certifications: Do You Need Them and are They Worth It?

Do you need to possess SQL certifications in order to land a job working with databases and SQL? Getting SQL certified can unlock a variety of opportunities in databases, data science, programming, and other fields, and help enhance your career if you’re a data analyst, data scientist, software developer, or anyone who deals with larger datasets on a regular basis.

Earning SQL certifications requires taking SQL certification courses (many of which are online) and learning as much as you can about database management, SQL servers, databases, and much more. Let’s jump in!

What is SQL?

SQL (structured query language) was originally created as the standardized language for relational database management, which means that, thanks to the prevalence of relational databases, it’s become one of the most vital parts of many companies’ technology stacks. In addition, it’s connected to several offshoots and derivations, including NoSQL. 

If SQL is the backbone of so many systems, you’d assume it supports a very narrow ecosystem of rigid standards and certifications, right? Wrong. When it comes to SQL certifications, it’s very much a Wild West out there, with different companies issuing different certifications based on their own SQL standards. If you’re learning SQL, it’s worth staying flexible.  

What should I learn first about SQL?

Dave Hatter, cybersecurity consultant for intrust-IT, which offers IT support and cybersecurity services, reminds us of the “gold standard” for SQL standards: ISO/IEC 9075:2016, which defines the structures and procedures for executing SQL statements. Learning that is key, before you begin considering training and certiifcations.

“Different database vendors have their own implementations based on [ISO/IEC 9075:2016]” Hatter told Dice.“Microsoft and Sybase have T-SQL, Oracle has PL/SQL. So most vendors have their own vendor-sponsored certifications.”

He added: “Additionally, there are several different roles that someone who works with a database might fill, for example: Database administrator, database developer, database architect, data scientist, so there are many unique certifications. There are some vendor-independent certifications, as well.”

Beyond the vendor-specific certifications from Microsoft or Oracle, there are other more platform-centric ones. You can get a MongoDB certification for NoSQL, for example, and there are MySQL certifications floating around.

What certifications do you need for SQL?

The short answer: SQL has no true “official” certification to speak of. It’s all very vendor- or platform-specific.

Want to land a job working with SQL in some capacity, and worried that you’ll need an armful of certifications if you want employers to consider you? Good news: If you can demonstrate the skills, many companies are more than happy to take a chance on you. “I don’t believe that you need any certification,” Hatter tells Dice. “I have worked with and taught SQL for decades and I do not currently hold any SQL certification.”

But which skills are particularly valuable? For an answer, we can turn to Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country. Based on the skills listed in those postings, here’s what employers want in an SQL developer:

“That said,” Hatter continued, “some require a certification and even if most employers don’t require a certification, it will be seen as a plus.”

As mentioned above, SQL certifications are typically platform-specific. For example, you have Microsoft SQL certifications and trainingOracle database certifications and trainingSAP certifications and training, and IBM certifications and training.

Here’s a deeper breakdown of potential SQL certifications:

Oracle Database SQL Certified Associate Certification
$245 for exam
Coursework: ~16 hours online

This certification focuses on fundamentals such as SQL statements and data modeling.

Oracle Certified Professional, MySQL 5.7 Database Administrator
$245 for exam
Coursework: ~31 hours online

This certification shows you can work with MySQL, Oracle’s relational database management system.

EDB PostgreSQL 12 Associate Certification
$200 for exam
Coursework: 19 classes

A more advanced course that covers PostgreSQL, a type of relational database management system utilized by many companies (particularly larger ones).

Microsoft Azure Data Fundamentals
$600 for training; $100 for exam
Coursework: 34+ modules

This certification covers the Microsoft Azure SQL database and other Microsoft-centric SQL products. If you plan on working for companies that rely on a Microsoft tech stack, this certification can prove useful.

Microsoft Azure Database Administrator Associate
$165 for exam
Coursework: 21+ modules

This mid-level certification is for people who thoroughly understand the concepts broken down in the Microsoft Azure Data Fundamentals certification; this covers SQL in the context of Microsoft Azure and cloud/hybrid databases.

Coursework: Virtual or in-class training

This is an expensive certification, so it’s worth asking your manager if your current employer is willing to pay for it. If you intend on working extensively with SAP products such as HANA, it’s potentially worth learning how SQL intersects with those products.

There are also learning opportunities and online classes that come with a certification of completion, including:

Learn SQL (Codecademy)
$19.99 per month
Coursework: 8 hours

The syllabus for this course includes SQL manipulation, queries, aggregate functions, tables, and more.

Learn SQL (Udacity)
$399 per month
Coursework: Two months (at 10 hours per week)

Udacity’s version of this course covers relational and non-relational database management with expert instructors.

SQL Certification Training Course (Simplilearn)
Coursework: 12 lessons

This coursework encompasses key query tools and SQL commands, SQL fundamentals, and more.

How do I get a SQL certification?

SQL certifications generally rely on some self-paced training and an exam. “For most of SQL certifications, you can take classroom-based training, online training, or just purchase the materials and self-study to prepare for the exam(s) required to earn the certification,” Hatter said. “Depending on the vendor, there may be more than one exam required to earn the certification. Microsoft has made recent changes to their program, so it’s critical that a candidate read and understand the most recent direction from the certification vendor.”

Indeed, Microsoft also has several paths and certifications within its various programs. It provides seven unique SQL-based certifications via its learning platform–and they’re just one certification provider. It’s possible an employer seeking a Microsoft SQL certification will also want someone with Azure certification, of which there are 12 unique certifications you can earn.

Is it worth getting these certifications?

“I believe firmly that the answer is ‘yes.’ In addition to learning new skills that will be useful to your work, you will have a certificate from a well-known, reputable organization that validates that you have demonstrated SQL knowledge and best practices,” Hatter said.

However, a certification isn’t necessarily necessary to land a job. When we ran a Burning Glass analysis of how often SQL-related certifications popped up in job postings for database administrators, data warehousing specialists, business intelligence architects/developers, and software developers/engineers—all jobs that involve a fairly extensive amount of database work—and found a statistically insignificant portion of those jobs required those certifications. 

That being said, certifications serve several purposes. First, they can differentiate you in a crowded market, particularly for an open job with multiple candidates competing. Second, they’re valuable for those new to database work, soothing potentially anxious employers that you have the necessary skills. Third, you can often use certifications to leverage a salary bump from your current employer, depending on how you negotiate. 

If you’re interested in database work (and structured data in general), and you have your eye on working for a company that deals with a particular flavor of SQL, a certification is certainly worth exploring. Just keep in mind most SQL certifications require continuing education to keep your certification valid. It’s not a one-time experience.