Real Talk : PL/SQL and SQL as your only development skill


notes-514998_640This morning I was asked a question about the job opportunities for a PL/SQL developer these days. I’m talking about someone with good SQL and PL/SQL skills, but limited, or no, knowledge of other development languages.

I think most people know I’m a big fan of PL/SQL. If you have good SQL skills and you know PL/SQL well, you can do pretty much anything with an Oracle database, including all types of web service and web development. Throw in some APEX skills and you can be super productive as a web developer against Oracle databases.

So back to the question, what are the job opportunities for a PL/SQL developer? In the UK at least, that’s not a great place to be right now. When I first started with Oracle technology it was not uncommon for companies to employ developers just to code PL/SQL. There are still jobs like that available, my employer has two PL/SQL contractors right now, but the market for a programmer with just PL/SQL is on the decline. Search for “programming language popularity” and you will see a number of indexes don’t include SQL and PL/SQL in the top 20 lists. Search for “enterprise programming language popularity” and you will see SQL and PL/SQL appear. There may be flaws in the way the information for these lists is gathered, but you get the message.

That’s not to say SQL and PL/SQL skills are not of value, just that those skills alone are no longer enough. They have to be part of a package that includes other development skills.

Most people I talk to work in organisations that use multiple database engines (Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL, several NoSQL engines), so having a person that can only do PL/SQL development means they are of limited use compared to someone that also knows Java, C# or Javascript to a high level. That is, development skills that span database engines.

In a similar way, my current employer won’t commit to APEX as a strategic development platform because it is just for Oracle databases. Using database links to other engines to allow you to continue using APEX against them is not strategic. 🙂 In the same way, we have a lot of PL/SQL right now, but in the future I can see this being of less importance compared to other skills that are multi-engine. Do I like this situation? No, but it seems to be where we are right now.

Of course, this could be a conversation about “Java/C#/Javascript as your only development skill”. Development in todays world requires multiple languages, each serving a different purpose. It could also be a database engine discussion. I can’t imagine ever working for a company again that doesn’t expect me to look after MySQL, SQL Server and other engines, as well as Oracle.

I hope this doesn’t come off as negative. I love SQL and PL/SQL and I would love to be able to tell you these skills alone would set you up for life, but that would be a lie. As a developer, you are forced to follow the market and the market says you need multiple development skills to survive. I hope you pick SQL and PL/SQL as part of your skill set, as they are still very important in enterprise companies, but in the current climate betting your whole development career on a single language is not a safe bet. 🙂



PS. Us old folks will cling on until the bitter end. 🙂

Author: Tim...

DBA, Developer, Author, Trainer.

9 thoughts on “Real Talk : PL/SQL and SQL as your only development skill”

  1. Thanks Tim. My company is going through exactly what you describe here. Last year sql and pl/sql was enough to have a fine career path. This year that has changed completely. I’m working on adding python, apex, mysql this year and Hadoop next year. I’m also studying devops and CI in my spare time.

    The world it is a changing. Remember the good old days even all you had to know was C???

    Deep sigh

  2. Very true Tim. Now a days Big Data technologies are overtaking enterprise database technology stack and developers with strong Java,Python, Scala guys are in demand. Its a high time Pl/SQL developers learn Big Data technologies as core data concepts are relatively same. I am leaning Scala but not from JVM/java background, new OO and functional programing paradigm renders quite tough learning experince. But believe me, may be in next 5-10 years most of the world’s data be on HDFS. Cloudera may become next Oracle! 🙂

  3. Thanks Tim. But how about if we have administration skills along with SQL and PL SQL. Does it make any difference to the current situation?


  4. Ankababu Sayampu: Then you have the choice of doing work as a DBA or PL/SQL developer, so life is better. The issue then becomes most companies want DBAs that can do more than Oracle, so you are likely to need additional skills, like SQL Server and MySQL.

    Although the post was to answer a specific question, the response could be applied to anything in IT now. There are very few jobs where have great skills in one subject is enough these days. You constantly have to strive for more. 🙂



  5. “But believe me, may be in next 5-10 years most of the world’s data be on HDFS. Cloudera may become next Oracle!” I don’t think that would ever happen. HDFS is made for completely a different kinds of data. Most of the data stored in Oracle (or any other database) are structured in nature. Why one should port their Billing processing system to Hadoop or NoSQL? That’s complete a different use case. Having said that, there may be already more PL/SQL developers than there is requirement. If one see the list of programming languages popular in Analytic world SQL holds good but recently many database vendors are integrating R engine into database (Oracle, SQL Server 2016, Teradata) to enable In-database analytics which opens up other options.
    Tim: I am just curious what are the Skills sets you think would be relevant to learn for Oracle database developers? SQL Server/MySQL/Postgre/NoSQL/Hive? Appreciate your advise.

  6. Sabyasachi: I think most people are so focussed on getting good at what they currently use, there isn’t much time for anything else.

    I would just suggest picking something you like the sound of, checking it out a little, then moving on. When you find something you love, plus there is some demand, go deep. 🙂



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