How to Learn SQL: Bootcamp vs. Self Learning (Pros and Cons)


The modern world runs on data. It underpins our strategic business decisions, buying choices and operational protocols — no matter what you name, data probably has something to do with it. But we don’t just need data. We also need professionals who can parse it. 

That’s where SQL comes in. SQL, short for Structured Query Language, is the standard programming language we use to communicate with databases. SQL, often pronounced “sequel,” has been used for decades to gather, edit and analyze information from relational databases. It’s an invaluable tool for developers, analysts, data scientists and countless other pros who use SQL daily. 

Anyone who wants to break into a tech-centric career needs to know SQL. But where should you start? 

Well, if you want to add SQL to your list of hard skills, two of your best options are attending a SQL bootcamp or studying on your own. Each has its pros and cons, which we’ll detail here. 

Ready to explore how to learn SQL? Let’s get started. 

Pros of Learning SQL at Coding Bootcamp

Bootcamps provide a concentrated, intense study of a subject (coding, data analysis, cybersecurity, etc.) over a condensed period. 

These accelerated academic programs are conducted online, in-person or via a hybrid format. They’re also known for their flexibility; many SQL bootcamps offer part-time schedules that students can arrange around their preexisting work and personal obligations. By the time they complete the program, graduates will have a hefty set of industry tools to carry into the job market.

What other benefits can you attain by attending a SQL server bootcamp? Check out the list below!

You Have Access to a Professional Instructor

While bootcamps certainly require intrinsic motivation and a sense of discipline, they don’t force you to learn alone. Instructors are typically industry veterans who have years of experience putting SQL into real-world practice. They can help guide students through tricky concepts, impart new material and answer any questions learners might have.

All that said, instructors don’t only provide support during their lectures. Many bootcamps also facilitate direct conversations between learners, instructors and/or teaching assistants. Alternatively, these programs might offer tutoring networks, wherein qualified students can schedule an hour per week with an individual tutor to review material, discuss projects or obtain career advice. 

Bootcamps Facilitate Flexible Learning Schedules

Unlike formal degree programs, SQL bootcamps aren’t designed around the assumption that students will always have the time to attend classes full-time. Instead, these accelerated courses accept that students will need to learn as quickly as possible without compromising their personal and professional obligations. 

To that end, bootcamps typically offer two scheduling options: full-time and part-time. 

Those who plan to keep working while attending a bootcamp can take advantage of a part-time program. This six-month curriculum requires a minimum of 20 hours per week of combined class and study time, with classes typically held twice weekly. 

On the other hand, a full-time courseload is ideal for students who want to upskill and enter the job pool as quickly as possible. This option works well for students who are ready to immerse themselves in a program and who have about 50 hours per week to devote to classwork and study. Full-time bootcamps usually last three months, with online classes held five days per week. This schedule minimizes the amount of time a learner needs to be out of work while upskilling. 

Both timelines cover the same topics and curricula but at different paces, giving you the freedom to choose how you want to study. The scheduling option you choose will ultimately depend on your situation and priorities. Is it more critical for you to upskill quickly? Or do you need to take it slower and arrange your coursework around your professional work? Attending a SQL bootcamp online can facilitate your learning either way; you just need to make the decision. 

Bootcamps Offer Opportunities to Create Portfolio Projects

In-class lectures and theoretical knowledge are important. But with digital disciplines, proof of skill is often required. Bootcamps not only teach in-demand skills but also push you to use them via project-based learning. Such hands-on activities are integral to a bootcamp’s learn-by-doing curriculum.

In a coding bootcamp, for example, you might test your knowledge by building a website or manipulating a database. During that process, you’ll naturally need to demonstrate your proficiency with SQL programming. 

But make no mistake, these tasks aren’t only assigned to help you cement your skillset. They’re also designed to help you land a job. Any of the projects you develop while attending a SQL bootcamp online can be polished to a shine and used to demonstrate your capabilities to potential employers. Having a well-stocked portfolio is key to convincing hiring managers that you have the abilities you claim on your resume. 

Additional Resources

Classroom-Based Environments Allow You to Forge Connections With Other Aspiring Professionals

Similar to a conventional degree program, bootcamps prioritize collaborative, peer-driven learning environments. All bootcamp students — even those who learn virtually — have the chance to connect with like-minded aspiring professionals and thereby build the foundation for their professional network. 

SQL bootcamps encourage collaboration between students, both in the classroom and on project builds. Students might find encouragement from pushing, and being pushed by, fellow students. You never know; years down the line, you might find that one of your former classmates might be in a position to help you find employment or pass along some invaluable industry insights.

Additional Resources

Bootcamps Provide Job-Ready Skills Quickly

Sure, you’ll learn SQL at a bootcamp — but that’s not all you’ll gain.

The average bootcamp is designed to give students an expansive foundation in all of the functional programming languages, tools and technologies they’ll need to land their first entry-level job in the field. 

A coding bootcamp, for instance, delivers instruction in web-browsing technologies (HTML, CSS and JavaScript) and database programs (MySQL and MongoDB). In a data analytics program, you’ll undertake a crash course in Microsoft Excel before learning Python and database programming languages, including SQL.

Think of SQL server bootcamps as vocational schools for those looking for training in database management — they impart the practical skills aspiring professionals need as quickly and effectively as possible.

Cons of Learning SQL at a Coding Bootcamp

Despite their myriad benefits, coding bootcamps aren’t an ideal fit for every learner or situation. Why might you steer away from a SQL bootcamp? Let’s consider a few reasons. 

You Can’t Learn Just SQL

If you want to learn SQL and only SQL, a bootcamp might not be your best option. As we discussed earlier, the bootcamps that teach SQL programming are designed to provide learners with the skill sets they need to pursue careers in web development or data analytics. Learners may spend a few weeks on SQL, but they won’t be focusing exclusively on it. 

For those who are new to coding or analytics, this broad focus might be beneficial. But if you’re already working in the tech field and have a handle on most foundational skills, you might find parts of a bootcamp’s curriculum redundant. 

Bootcamps Require You to Commit to Class Times

Do you need structure, or do you thrive on flexibility? For some students, having scheduled class time is a selling point, as set lessons and deadlines provide a degree of accountability that they might not otherwise get. 

However, for others, having to adhere to formal class times might be frustrating or infeasible. After all, bootcamps do demand a significant amount of time. In full-time programs, classes are held five days a week for three months; a part-time program requires two hours of class time per week for six months.

For some, however, attending daily or biweekly classes for three or six months simply isn’t doable. Moreover, because in-class lectures are so concentrated and cover so much ground, skipping them isn’t advisable. If attending regular classes isn’t possible for you, you may want to consider alternative learning options. 

Bootcamps Require a Financial Investment 

Bootcamps, like most other worthy academic routes, include tuition costs. However, if you’re looking to gain an expansive set of foundational skills, it is worth noting that the average bootcamp tuition is cheaper than a four-college degree. Recent data from U.S. News and World Report indicates that average four-year tuition costs can range from $38,748 to $140,348, depending on where and what kind of university a student attends. Compared to those rates, bootcamps are much more affordable. 

Moreover, if you’re concerned about finances, you can always reach out to your bootcamp’s administrative office to see if they offer scholarships or financing options. 

Will a Bootcamp Help Me Get a Job?

In short, yes!

While no educational route — whether it be a college, bootcamp or online course — can guarantee a job, attending a bootcamp can orient you for career success. Plus, your bootcamp provider may also provide resources to help you find a job or connect with potential employers.  

But before we get into that, let’s consider how employers view bootcamp-trained candidates. 

In 2020, HackerRank, a site built by and for software developers, surveyed hiring managers (PDF, 2.8 MB) about their attitudes toward bootcamp graduates. About 72 percent of respondents said they considered bootcamp grads to be as qualified or more qualified than hires with other educational backgrounds.

About one-third of hiring managers also said they had hired bootcamp graduates, according to HackerRank. Smaller companies have the most optimistic hiring attitude, with 32 percent of companies that have fewer than 50 employees hiring non-degree-holding candidates. These statistics show that employers are looking for you — you just need to find them!

Bootcamps may be able to help with that. While these programs won’t necessarily provide a direct path to job placement, they can help open doors. Quality bootcamps often offer career counseling, networking opportunities and application assistance. 

So, sign up for online career events, attend a virtual speech conducted by an industry thought leader or spruce up your portfolio through a development program! Career support is a crucial benefit of bootcamp learning. Don’t dismiss the opportunity.

Do I Need to Have Background Knowledge in Web Development?

No. The vast majority of bootcamps are designed to help newcomers gain the foundational skills they need to pivot into an entry-level job. Having a programming background is helpful, but by no means required, for those applying to a coding bootcamp.

That said, some industry-specific programs that impart SQL may have prerequisites. For example, data analytics bootcamps sometimes recommend that applicants have some relevant education or experience in a related field. 

But don’t worry — not having these skills isn’t a dealbreaker. Many bootcamps offer pre-course tutorials to give students without the requisite skills a runway into class. All you really need is a willingness to commit to the course and a passion for learning!

How Much Does a Bootcamp Cost? Are There Payment Options?

Individual tuition costs can vary depending on program length, discipline, geographic region and individual school. 

That said, pricing usually doesn’t rise too far above the average. According to Career Karma’s 2020 Bootcamp Market report, over one-third of bootcamps set their tuition costs between $10,000 and $15,000. Only 8.7 percent ask for more than $20,000, and nearly 10 percent ask for less than $5,000.

A graph that shows how much coding bootcamps cost.

To make matters easier, bootcamps often offer scholarships and financing options to qualified students. It’s essential to inquire about financial flexibilities before applying so you get a clear view of your options.  

How Long Will a Bootcamp Take to Complete?

The timeline will depend on your schedule and readiness for a bootcamp. The programs themselves generally last three months for full-time study and six months for a part-time plan.

However, you could require lead time before beginning a bootcamp, depending on your experience level. Programming newcomers might benefit from supplementing their education with some coding pre-study. Some bootcamps also offer an optional phase to study additional programming languages after the base curriculum concludes. 

What Other Skills Will I Learn?

A comprehensive coding bootcamp curriculum will cover several programming languages, database skills (including SQL use) and browser technologies. Below, we’ve listed a few skills you can expect to learn during your attendance. 

  • Algorithms (searches and sorts)
  • Data structures
  • JavaScript/jQuery
  • Bootstrap
  • React.js
  • MySQL
  • Progressive web applications
  • API

Through this bootcamp curriculum, students learn to create a web page, work with servers and databases and connect front end and back end technologies. By the time their courses conclude, students will have the skills required to become a full stack developer.

Pros of Learning SQL on Your Own

Given enough time and dedication, it’s possible to compile your own DIY lessons. Online SQL courses are available in many video, tutorial and step-by-step written forms. If you’re eager to learn, possess analytical skills and have a database to crunch, this can be a practical way to learn SQL.

You Can Set Your Own Schedule

Are you unable to meet for scheduled lessons, even those conducted online? Does committing 50 hours per week for three months to classes and homework (or 20 hours per week for a part-time program) sound infeasible? If so, you’re a good candidate for independent study.

Let’s face it: some people don’t have the bandwidth for that much class time and additional material. If you just want a SQL introduction or refresher course, a self-study course might be your best bet. Plus, you’ll be able to study whenever you want — whether that’s late at night or during working hours. 

You Don’t Have to Commit to Learning Other Skills

Bootcamps work great for students looking to obtain a thorough foundation in coding, web development or data analytics. 

But some people don’t need the additional courses that bootcamps provide. They might already know HTML or JavaScript, or have a thorough understanding of database management theory. In either case, it wouldn’t be efficient for these students to sit through classes on subjects they already know. 

A better option might be to hit the books. Textbooks, tutorials and other resources on SQL are readily accessible online and in stores. 

Additional Resources

You Can Study What Interests You

You love working with data — but maybe you’re aren’t so crazy about building front end interfaces. By learning via self-directed study and SQL online courses, you can focus on the topics that interest you. Independent learners do not need to spend time on subjects outside of the curriculum they define. Perhaps you need to know SQL to analyze sales records from your company’s database; if your needs are similarly specific, independent learning might be the right path.

That said, it is worth noting that if you’re an industry newcomer who wants to land a job in data or coding, you may need to brush up on other languages or tools to be marketable. Think carefully when designing your study plan!

Cons of Learning SQL on Your Own

SQL, or any language, can be difficult to learn independently for a variety of reasons. Below, we’ve listed just a few. 

You’re Accountable for Your Own Progress

As a self-directed learner, you won’t have an outside instructor hovering over your shoulder to check your progress. For some, this freedom might be liberating — but for others, it could prove dangerous. If you’re not intrinsically motivated and able to keep yourself accountable, you may find yourself brushing off scheduled lessons, missing self-set work deadlines and falling behind. 

In contrast, structured learning environments, such as bootcamps, provide proving grounds through assignments, projects and class collaboration. Some even offer weekly challenges to make sure you’re keeping pace with the work. 

If you’re planning to go it alone, make sure you have measures (or friends!) in place to keep you accountable. Even for independent learners, having an outside voice to keep you on track can be invaluable. 

You Don’t Have an Instructor for Support

In conventional academic courses, an instructor defines the curriculum and supports students when they need help. But if you’re a self-directed learner, the burden of finding material and puzzling through problems falls squarely on your shoulders. 

Plenty of books, tutorials and videos can promise to teach you SQL in a week or a month. But are they legitimate or current? Starting from scratch can be overwhelming because of the volume of material and the unknown value it holds. 

If you’re planning to stitch together your own online SQL online curriculum, make sure the materials you choose are useful and valid!

Employers May Not Value Self-Taught Skills as Much as Formally Taught Ones

Employers certainly value your work, your work ethic, your critical thinking skills and your attitude. But will they appreciate your technical capabilities if you don’t have a degree to guarantee them? The jury’s out. 

According to a 2020 Stack Overflow survey of developers, about 75 percent of software developers said they hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Conversely, nearly 21 percent of respondents said they had completed only high school or some college. These findings suggest that professional doors aren’t entirely closed against self-directed learners, particularly those with the drive and the portfolio to support their skills. That said, it’s substantially harder to launch your career or even land an entry-level job without a degree or some form of certification.

Which Learning Path Should I Take?

A chart that compares the pros and cons of learning SQL in a bootcamp environment vs. self-learning.

Ultimately, the learning path you choose will depend on your goals. 

To understand how you should approach learning SQL, assess your objectives and requirements. If you have the patience and diligence to find and study the proper material, you can become proficient by building your own set of online SQL courses. But if you prefer an organized and guided pace, need occasional help or might want to pursue a broader education, a bootcamp might work best.

Have you decided to kickstart your career with bootcamp learning? If so, check out Berkeley Boot Camps; we offer intensive, hands-on programs on web development, cybersecurity, data analytics and more. 

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