When people ask which programming language I learned first, I often absent-mindedly reply, “Python,” forgetting that it was actually with SQL that I first learned to write code. This is probably because learning SQL felt so intuitive after spending years running formulas in Excel spreadsheets. I didn’t have a technical background, but I found SQL’s syntax, unlike that of many other programming languages, straightforward and easy to implement. For example, you run SELECT * on a SQL table to make every row and column appear. You simply use the JOIN keyword to return rows of data from different related tables, which you can then further group, sort, and analyze.
I’m a graphics editor, and I’ve worked as a developer and journalist at a number of publications, including POLITICO, Vox, and USA TODAY. My daily responsibilities involve analyzing data and creating visualizations from what I find. I first used SQL when I worked at The Chronicle of Higher Education and its sister publication, The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Our team analyzed data ranging from nonprofit financials to faculty salaries at colleges and universities. Many of our projects included as much as 20 years’ worth of data, and one of my main tasks was to import all that data into a SQL database and analyze it. I had to calculate the percent change in fundraising dollars at a nonprofit or find the median endowment size at a university to measure an institution’s performance.