Admit, we have all been there. You are on your 5th Udemy course on what you think is the next must-have algorithm/tech skill, from Generative Adversarial Networks, to YOLO and ANNOY algorithms, when you ask yourself, why am I doing this? Yes, it looks super cool to post about how only real data scientists do back-propagation by hand or grow their own neural nets with organic soil under their desk, but does this actually translate into on-the-job success? Does this further drive the passion for data science and the creative spirit to constantly follow the most recent trend. Or as previously stated a few years ago on this blog, to be lost in the utter darkness of the “MOOC Trap?” So hit that CAPS LOCK key and let’s get down to business!
I am not saying that there is not a place for advanced algorithmic learnings and the implementation of cutting-edge machine learning techniques on the job market. But in my experience working for various Fortune 500 companies in the consulting world and government, it is rarely the case that these are being implemented on a day-to-day basis. What truly matters are the core skills that we tend to forget. This is why I am hitting that #ThrowbackThursday button on your social media feed and recommending to poor a glass of wine, light a candle, and take your relationship with SQL to the next level.
No one loves SQL. Seriously, it is not what we think about when you hear “Sexiest job of the 21st century.” Running queries does not win Kaggle competitions nor does it get on the front page of Analytics Vidhya, make you want to hit that subscribe button and pay for a monthly membership to TowardsDataScience.com or make you yearn for some sweet, sweet credits to run queries on AWS RDS. But it is important, oh so very important. Most of the jobs on the market in both data analytics and data science not only require SQL, but act as the first cone you must pass to actually speak with a human being beyond a phone screen for most jobs. So where to start?
Write one query a day
Habits grow out of consistency but our better natures tend to pull us away, telling us to us that one day won’t make a difference and that we can wait to start tomorrow. But the simple act of one query a day can be quite transformative. This can be as simple as SELECT * FROM table. That basic act will create a routine within your subconscious. That one query will then become two the next, to five the following day. Next thing you know, you will most from basic query to more complex WHERE clauses, conditional statements and playing interior designer with those WINDOW functions that you will be dropping in no time.
But how do I start?
It is no secret that data science is more and more influenced by game theory and behavioral economics and one thing we learn is that incentives matter. In fact, research has shown that losing something hurts more than gaining something. (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979) This is why starting creating a penalty rather than reward can get you to SQL habit forming faster.
Create a daily penalty, which has to be outside your own benefit. Believe me, I have tried creating penalties that involve paying off $10 of student loans for each day I miss. That just ended up with me patting myself on the back saying, “I can skip, because it is going to something I need to accomplish regardless.” The penalty should be to a charity, 50 burpees you have to do that day, or loss of a TV privilege for your favorite show. This may seem tough, but to create habit, sometimes we need a fire under our butt.
I don’t like penalties, just give me something fun!
Ok, ok, I may have come off a little harsh with the whole penalty thing. If you are someone who is big on motivational phrases, like to watch motivational videos before going on a jog, or big on the social media scene, create a challenge. We see a lot of the #100DaysofCoding challenges out there. This is where you can jump right in. Challenge a friend to a bet. Whoever can accumulate the most days of writing a SQL query in a row will receive something (cash, 6-pack of beer, or back rub, you figure it out). Create a leaderboard, invite colleagues, those friends that are on the job hunt and get after it!
What are some good resources?
Some fine resources out there are the following:
- SQL by Jose Portillo. The guy is a legit phenom of an instructor.
- w3schools SQL course
Advanced: Make friends with the ETL team
If you are already on the job market and on a data science team, slide one seat over on the proverbial team chairs and make friends with a member of the ETL team. These are the folks that create the pipelines that move data in and out of the applications and machine learning algorithms we design. ETL team members are expert level SQL junkies. Almost every member of an ETL team or solutions architecture team have SQL skills that warm up to my most advanced SQL queries. By talking about the data challenges they face, seeing how they approach complex table joins and create data warehouses for your analytic dashboarding pleasure, or simply unclog your data faucets, you can learn a lot. In my experience, these individuals are also excited to learn about data science and friendly lunch-and-shares can not only create internal team synergies, but lead to you acquiring new SQL skills in the process.