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SQL Forever: Why Data Matters Most

I received a royalty check today for my first book, A Visual Introduction to SQL. The check wasn’t very big, but the remarkable thing was that I received it at all.

I wrote this book with my friend Harvey Trimble in 1989, when SQL was a relatively new standard. A second edition was published a dozen years later, but it wasn’t very different from the first–we added just a few things. Yet the book is still selling. (In fact, it’s on an MIT syllabus for the Spring 2014 semester.) How many other 25-year-old technology books are still selling in more or less their original form?

I’m not making any claims about the book’s quality here (although the Amazon  reviews are nice). What I’m impressed by is the longevity and the stability of SQL. Whatever NoSQL enthusiasts might wish, SQL is still a core technology in our industry, and it will be for a long time to come.

Why is this? One big reason is that the heart of IT isn’t code–it’s data. In fact, before the rise of the term “information technology”, our field was called “data processing”. Sometimes I wish that we still used that name, if only because it emphasized what was most important.

Yes, programming languages matter, and flashy interfaces on cool mobile devices are great, but none of these has much value without useful data to work on. And once data is stored in a particular form, such as relational tables, it’s usually hard to change that form–hence the longevity of SQL.

Given all of this, I wouldn’t be surprised to see our book still selling five or ten years from now. Maybe it’s time to get to work on a third edition.

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