What Does an SQL Developer Do? Role, Salary, and Skills

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn more about the role of an SQL developer. Discover how much you could earn and the SQL developer skills you need to build a career in this field.

[Featured Image]:  A team of SQL developers, working at their workstations, in front of their desktop computers.

In today's digital information age, the quality and accessibility of data are more important than ever. As a result, SQL developers are in high demand across a wide range of industries, from health care to retail to finance. 

Learn what an SQL developer does and how you can get started in this technology career.

What is an SQL developer?

An SQL Developer is a hybrid database engineer and software developer who uses structured query language (SQL) to manipulate data, implement database-driven solutions, and build applications. SQL developers design relational databases and write code that interacts with stored data to complete functional requirements for a business.

An SQL developer is a database professional who often works alongside business analysts, database administrators, and other IT professionals to help companies create and maintain databases to control and manipulate their data.

Read more: What Does SQL Stand For?

What does an SQL developer do?

The role of an SQL developer is to develop and manage SQL databases by planning, developing, and maintaining the databases. SQL developers use structured query language (SQL) to create and modify database tables using CRUD SQL commands. CRUD is an acronym for create, read, update, delete and refers to the four operations developers perform on database tables to manipulate the data. 

As an SQL developer, you'll:

  • Optimize database performance

  • Create complex functions and stored procedures

  • Analyze queries, develop security protocols, and resolve problems

  • Design database architecture and create dashboards

  • Write complex queries for applications and business intelligence reporting

Some queries and application functionality can be simple, such as a command to pull up all records related to a specific customer in an e-commerce database. Code can also be complex, involving multiple tables linked via a web of interconnected relationships, such in supply chain enterprise resource planning (ERP).

SQL developers’ code allows users to interact with the information stored in databases, access metrics that show key business insights and provide decision support to the organization. 

SQL developer salary and job outlook

The average SQL developer's annual salary is $97,539, though that may vary depending on the level of experience, industry, and location [1]. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, software developers have a 25 percent job growth rate between 2021 and 2031, which is much faster than the average for all jobs [2].

Skills needed to be an SQL developer

SQL developers must possess a combination of workplace and technical skills. These skills are necessary to thrive in an SQL developer role.

Proficiency in SQL

The first and most apparent SQL developer competency is proficiency in SQL (Structured Query Language). SQL is the programming language used to interface with databases.

You might be interested in taking UMichigan's Introduction to Structured Query Language:

Knowing how to use a database management system

Besides knowing the language, SQL developers need to be familiar with one of the major database management systems. These include MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, and PostgreSQL.

  • MySQL

MySQL is currently the most popular open-source database management system. Michael Widenius, who cofounded MySQL AB, (which is now part of Oracle), with David Axmark in 1995, developed MySQL. It runs on multiple platforms—including Windows and Linux— and can support small and large databases.

  • PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL is another open-source relational database management system available on all major platforms (and some minor ones) and is supported in various cloud computing environments.

  • Microsoft SQL Server

Microsoft SQL Server is a popular relational database management system developed by Microsoft Inc., which runs on Windows servers. Like MySQL, SQL Server has a variety of versions, each supporting different features and scales of data. Microsoft also offers Azure SQL Database as a cloud-based service. 

SQL Server is particularly popular in corporate environments. Job advertisements frequently list SSIS, SSRS, or SSAS SQL Server experience as essential criteria for application.

You don’t need to be an expert in all these areas before becoming an SQL developer, but it helps to have a good grasp of at least a few of these tools and resources.

Integrating databases with business intelligence software

Business intelligence software is the umbrella term for applications that help companies analyze data. SQL developers often help connect databases with business intelligence software packages like Power BI and Tableau.

It might be an SQL developer’s responsibility to modify the database schema to ensure that external applications can access data or even to build a new database from scratch to meet the needs of a business case.

Familiarity with Excel, including pivot tables

If you’re working with data in Excel and want to summarize it using pivot tables, you’ll need to know how to write SQL code. Pivot tables extract and arrange data into neat categories and subcategories for quick analysis. You can also add filters, charts, and other visualizations on top of this data–which means you’ll need to learn how to write queries to use them effectively.

Database design and management

Before writing programs, SQL developers must design a database. They are usually responsible for cataloging and organizing data into tables, specifying data types, primary and foreign keys, and other constraints. They may also develop processes to import data from external sources and migrate databases when moving to new technology, such as onto cloud database systems.

Experience in programming languages

SQL developers should have strong programming fundamentals, including experience with one or more programming languages such as Java. .NET, C++, Python, or Ruby on Rails. Developers should also know web application development languages and tools to design front-end user interfaces (e.g., HTML, PHP).

Additional helpful technical knowledge and skills include:

• Experience with NoSQL

• Knowledge of big data analytics

• Strong data management skills

• Good understanding of indexing, querying, and normalization

• Good understanding of relational database management system

• Good understanding of database integrity and security


How to become a SQL developer

To become an SQL developer, you’ll need education, experience, and certifications. 

1. Earn a degree.

As with many careers, a strong educational background can help you become an SQL developer. While a high school diploma may be sufficient for some positions, many employers prefer candidates who have a bachelor's degree in computer science, data analytics, data management, mathematics, engineering, statistics, or another related field.

Master's degrees in these fields are also useful for SQL developers. These programs build on undergraduate courses, and students learn advanced programming techniques that develop their skills as SQL developers. Master's degrees for SQL developers are typically focused on computer science, data analytics, and information technology.

2. Gain experience.

Employers often state that their minimum requirement for SQL developer positions is one to two years of experience with SQL and relational databases. 

To gain experience, consider freelancing, junior roles, or even volunteer positions in a related field, working on projects using SQL in an actual production environment. Employers want to see real-life experience from a professional work environment.

3. Build your skills and get certified.

You can enhance your progress in your SQL development career by earning Professional Certificates. These certifications demonstrate commitment, proficiency, and mastery of the subject matter, which can help you stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs.

Popular certifications for SQL developers include:

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer: Data Management and Analytics

  • Oracle PL/SQL Developer Certified Associate

  • Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD)

  • MySQL 5.7 Database Administrator Certification

  • IBM Certified Database Associate

  • Azure Data Fundamentals

  • Oracle Database SQL Certified Associate Certification

  • EDB PostgreSQL 12 Associate Certification

Job titles similar to SQL developer 

Here are some common job titles you might see while searching for roles as an SQL developer and their annual salaries, according to Glassdoor:

  • SQL Server Developer: $97,204 [3]

  • Oracle Database Administrator (DBA): $132,730 [4]

  • Oracle Developer: $102,231 [5]

  • Oracle PL/SQL Developer: $119,144 [6]

  • DBA Developer: $130,538 [7]

Advance from SQL developer and beyond

There are quite a number of senior roles up the ladder on SQL developer career paths. The following are some common roles and their estimated annual salaries, according to Glassdoor:

  • Big Data Consultant: $114,710 [8]

  • Information Technology Manager: $138,246 [9]

  • Information Technology Operations Manager: $136,791 [10]

  • Senior Software Engineer: $144,569 [11]

  • Director Of Software Development: $255,363 [12]

  • Informatica Consultant: $125,222 [13]

  • Project Manager: $84,963[14]

  • Development Manager: $139,703 [15]

  • Senior Development Manager: $175,998 [16]

  • Senior Programmer Analyst: $131,393 [17]

  • Manager Applications Development: $145,635 [18]

  • Application Development Director: $185,540 [19]

Start learning SQL today

To start learning SQL today, enroll in a free 7-day trial with Coursera Plus. IBM's Data Science Fundamentals with Python and SQL Specialization can be a productive step toward achieving your goals as a SQL developer. You'll develop hands-on experience with Python and SQL, and learn how to perform statistical analysis on real-world data sets.

Article sources


Glassdoor. “How much does a SQL Developer make?https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/sql-developer-salary-SRCH_KO0,13.htm” Accessed July 16, 2023.

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