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?

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.  

Does SQL have an official certification?

Dave Hatter, cybersecurity consultant for intrust-IT, which offers IT support and cybersecurity services, reminds us of the “gold standard” for SQL: ISO/IEC 9075:2016, which defines the structures and procedures for executing SQL statements.

“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.

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

What certifications do you need for SQL?

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.

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.

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9 Responses to “SQL Certifications: Do You Need Them and are They Worth It?”

  1. It is worth it to get certified, for microsoft you buy the official training book and then buy vouchers to take the test. It is hard but you really learn the language and it definately makes you stand out when a company is looking for an expert and has dozens of applications to sort through. That certification can single you out immediately

  2. I know this might be a bit late but if you are set on getting a Microsoft certification, try the Azure Database Administrator Associate certification. The exam is not retiring and it covers both Azure and T-SQL. Plus Microsoft provides free modules and you can build up to higher levels. I seems as though the reason Microsoft is retiring their old SQL Server exams is because they are trying to promote integration with Azure, which is their cloud computing arm.

    • Estervelle Bennett

      I scheduled my SQL database fundamentals exam before the program retired. I’m new to databases and wanted a solid basic knowledge. It is my understanding that SQL databases can be imported into Azure; therefore, having SQL knowledge is beneficial. Next, I’m aiming for the Azure database administration certification.