Technology / Data

Intro to Databases

by Team Nuggets
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Published on October 25, 2023

Databases are Where All That Data Lives

It's hard to overstate the importance of databases. Imagine how much data even a small, three-person company might generate. There are personal records of the three employees, their tax information, all the emails they send, and when their meetings are scheduled. Then there's the information about their clients: the details about what work has to be done, details about payment, all the emails and messages that pass back and forth, working documents. There's also information about suppliers and business partners. 

All that data might start as a single sheet in a spreadsheet, but eventually, that spreadsheet will need multiple pages and many spreadsheets. All that data has to go somewhere. A database is a natural place to store it. And that's for a 3-person company – some of the world's biggest employers have over a million employees to keep track of. Databases are important.

Databases aren't just organized ways to store data – they're meticulously structured vaults where essential information for applications, services, and entire networks gets protected and organized. Databases in the modern world manage transactions of global businesses: ensuring products reach shelves, paychecks make it into accounts, and flights take off on time.

Databases and the people who create, maintain, and improve them are the architects of our data-driven world. The vast majority of our services and tools are simply impossible without databases. Even people who don't work in IT can benefit from understanding how databases do their magic. But database management is also a career field all its own, a place where technically-minded people can come up with clever solutions for complicated data problems.

Introduction to Database Concepts Video Playlist

Some people think databases are far too complicated to ever understand. Not so! Watch just a few seconds of these free database training videos from Garth Schulte. Garth designed this video playlist to introduce anyone to the core concepts of databases. Learn what databases are, how they function, and who maintains them. You can watch the videos in order or skip around to the topics that interest you most. 

Whether you're a working professional who needs to understand databases for your non-IT job or you're an IT hopeful, Garth's videos explain every fundamental of databases. 

In addition to the basic terminology and concepts, Garth covers the technologies that make them possible and what training can help a person achieve a career in database administration. This free video training playlist will also introduce you to how CBT Nuggets courses are structured so you know what to expect from a membership.

What is a Database?

A database is essentially a filing cabinet. However, databases can contain data of any type – numbers, text, images, videos, entire social media profiles, manufacturing sensor data, stock market prices over time, documents, and more. Also, databases can expand or shrink to contain exactly how much content is put in. Also, databases can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. Also, databases can automatically sort, categorize, process, and filter everything you put into it. So, except for those ways and many others, a database is basically just a filing cabinet.

Basic Database Concepts, Explained

Databases are digital information storage repositories. A fundamental concept of databases is whether they store structured data or unstructured data. Data is "structured" when it's organized in a well-defined format. Structured data (think financial or medical records) follows a set of rules and is usually arranged in rows and columns. Each piece of information is assigned to a category, and each category is predefined and consistent. The databases that deal with structured data are typically called SQL or relational databases.

SQL databases are the precision instruments of the digital world, thriving in situations where information is neatly organized into tables with predefined columns, ensuring that every piece of data has its place. This structured approach makes SQL databases perfect for tasks like managing financial records, customer data, or complex inventory systems.

However, there's a flip side. SQL databases sometimes struggle with rapidly changing data structures or the need for high scalability. Where data becomes more fluid or dynamic, NoSQL databases step in. NoSQL databases can offer flexibility and adaptability at the expense of some degree of consistency and rigor. NoSQL databases prioritize other aspects of data management, which may only be suitable for some use cases.

Organizations generate a ton of data. When using that data, sometimes those organizations need high availability, scalability, and rapid data handling. Other times, uniformity, precision, and accuracy are more important. In both cases, trained database administrators work with the hardware and software that makes it possible to store, retrieve, and use that data.

Database Fundamentals

Although the types of data and information they can store vary wildly, databases generally function according to the same fundamental principles. If you've seen a spreadsheet before, you're close to understanding the basic building block of a database. 

Here are some of the fundamental pieces of a database:

  • Tables: Tables are the containers that store data. Just like spreadsheets have defined rows and columns, tables help organize and categorize the data it contains. Tables are a part of a database's organizing structure and not a part of the data itself. But just like the size of a filing cabinet and its shape of its drawers would change what you might store in it, tables have properties that can affect how the database works.

  • Rows: Rows are also known as records, and they're the horizontal entries in a database table (which you can visualize like a spreadsheet in this case). Each row in a database contains the complete data set about a certain entity (whether that's a customer, product, or a movie).

  • Columns: Columns are also known as fields and are the vertical sections of a database table. Columns define what type of data can be stored in a table and allow specific attributes about each record to be defined. So in a table of employees, rows might be about individual employees, and columns might include "Name," "Birthdate," "Salary," etc.

  • Queries: Queries are requests for information from a database. Databases don't speak English, so the request must be written with the right vocabulary and syntax when querying a database. Some programs "translate" database language into more familiar terminology, but searching, filtering, and retrieving data in the query language (for example, SQL) is also possible.

  • Relationships: Relationships define connections between tables, establishing how data in one place is related to data in another. Imagine a database for an online store: you might connect customers (in one table) with their orders (in another table) with relationships. Relationships are typically categorized as one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many. Although obscure at first, relationships are essential for improving data efficiency and integrity.

Are There Careers Working With Databases?

Companies hold on to data for many different reasons. Similarly, they need lots of data professionals for different reasons. Database Administrators maintain existing databases, data analysts dive deep into the hidden meaning of data, and developers write apps that manage, sort, present or use stored data. 

Here are just a few of the careers related to databases:

  • Network Administrator: The network administrator role isn't strictly a data-related IT career. But many network admins expand their job roles and skills to include management and administration of databases and data systems. This is valuable because many massive networks are also ingesting and processing data. According to a CBT Nuggets analysis, the national average salary for a Network Administrator is $66,000.

  • Database Administrator (DBA): DBAs install, configure, and maintain databases. DBAs are usually deeply familiar with a particular Database Management System (DBMS) or specific data platform. A CBT Nuggets study revealed that the national average salary for a Database Administrator is $75,700.

  • Data Analyst: Like the name suggests, a data analyst analyzes data. Taking information from multiple sources, analysts use mathematical models, analysis patterns, and even intuition to make sense of data. Data analysts might make predictions, clarify unclear situations, or provide insights into a large data set.

  • Information Security Analyst: Another job that falls outside the purely data-focused jobs, an information security analyst is typically adjacent to data professionals. However, many of the two jobs' mathematical and technical skills are related. Information security analysts inspect the data generated by network operations and use it to identify anomalous data that suggests network attacks or vulnerabilities. According to a CBT Nuggets poll, the national average salary for information security analysts is close to $70,200.

  • Database Developer: Database developers design and build databases that store and retrieve data efficiently. They write code, develop data structures, write SQL queries, and optimize database performance. A database developer might work with generic tools and languages or specialize in particular DBMS or platforms.

How Can You Learn the Essentials of Database Concepts?

At this point, you might be thinking that databases sound complex, confusing, and intimidating. Unfortunately, they can be – but not always! Online database training is the best way to learn the basics of database concepts. Whether or not databases will be a career move, taking a database course can help you use, manage, and find data better and faster.

What Gets Taught in an Introduction to Databases?

If you're going to learn about databases, you need more than just understanding databases: you also have to know how to use them. A good database course explains the fundamental concepts while preparing you to get your hands dirty with data.

An introductory database course would start with the basic terminology and concepts of databases, like the language many databases use: the Structured Query Language (SQL). After that, you'll want to move on to a course that explains MySQL, which isn't a language but is a software system for managing databases (DBMS) that powers the vast majority of databases in the world.

Once you've got the basics of databases, SQL, and DBMSs down, you need to start choosing database courses based on what roles and responsibilities you foresee needing as a database administrator. 

Database administrators need generic knowledge of languages and systems, but they also need to be able to apply that knowledge in specific environments and ecosystems. For instance, Azure SQL and Google Cloud SQL are highly similar data environments, but if an employer uses one over the other, you should learn the one that will lead to job opportunities.

Certifications That Cover Database Basics

In the IT world, earning a certification is a way to demonstrate a certain amount of knowledge and expertise. Maintained by trusted organizations and vendors of database hardware and software, there are database certifications designed to prove familiarity with database technologies and management at nearly any level of expertise. 

Here are some of the recommended database certifications for relative newcomers:

  • Oracle Database SQL Certified Associate: The perfect introduction for new database users who want to master the essentials, the OCA is an entry-level certification for data analysts and would-be database administrators. It emphasizes familiarity with the Oracle "flavor" of SQL, a commonly used variant.

  • Microsoft MTA: Database: Although it is now retired as a certification, the information covered by the MTA: Database Fundamentals is still essential ground-floor knowledge for someone who wants to work with databases. Microsoft networks interact with data in particular ways, and it's a highly valuable skill to understand how to manage that relationship, which you can do by preparing for the MTA.

  • AWS Certified Database - Specialty: The AWS Database specialty cert is meant to represent five years of hands-on experience with AWS databases, so although it's not meant for brand new DBAs, it's an excellent resource for anyone considering a career working with databases. It validates familiarity with on-prem and AWS cloud-based relational and on-relational databases.

Data is one of the most important currencies for companies in the modern world, and databases are the vaults where that currency is stored and protected. Starting a career in database administration can lead to rewarding and interesting careers.

But don't stop at databases! There are many other categories of IT to consider if you're looking into careers. Check out all our available Intro to IT training and find out what best suits your skills and interests.


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