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Amarachi Iheanacho
Amarachi Iheanacho

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Understanding the Fundamentals of Database Programming Languages

Data, the driving force behind everything, from medical breakthroughs to smart cities, is surging.

As highlighted in its Seagate Technology-sponsored report "Data Age 2025," the International Data Corporation predicts a staggering 175 zettabytes of data will be generated annually by 2025. This ocean of information, fueled by the rise of social media, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), etc., holds immense promise. But it also presents a daunting reality: 175 zettabytes is an almost incomprehensible amount of data. Without the right tools, this exponential growth threatens to drown us in a sea of information, leading to data overload and management nightmares.

And it is not just about the chaos. More data comes with more responsibility, and every extra byte creates an even larger surface area for malicious actors to work with. Security breaches, data leaks, and unauthorized access to sensitive information become increasingly likely, amplifying the growing threat to our privacy and security.

The good news, however, is that you are not powerless in this data age. This article explores database programming as a powerful tool for efficiently managing and securing data and databases. It also offers valuable resources to start your journey into database programming.

Understanding Database Programming

Databases serve as the foundation for numerous applications and systems we encounter in our day-to-day lives. These systems, which can range from a grocery list application to self-driving car navigation, rely on databases to store and organize the data that powers their application.

But databases are more than just filing cabinets. Powerful databases like HarperDB empower you to retrieve, update, and manage data efficiently and see updates as they happen, all in real-time. This real-time access means you can monitor your data, subscribe to specific changes, and receive instant notifications – all thanks to the power of database programming.

With database programming, developers build, manage, and manipulate application databases and their data using code. They empower developers to write instructions that build intricate, resilient structures, execute precise queries, and optimize performance for specific application needs.

In addition to enhancing accessibility and performance, database programming empowers secure data management. Techniques like encryption, access control, and data masking act as layers of firewalls, safeguarding sensitive information from malicious actors.

The possibilities of database programming seem endless, but let's face it: learning a new skill is challenging. So, what makes this particular journey worth taking?

Why should we learn database programming?
Almost everything touches data in software engineering – storing, organizing, and making sense of it. Therefore, it's not an understatement to say that database programming is at the heart of modern software development.
Learning database programming deepens your understanding of how information flows within software systems. This knowledge empowers us to make data-driven decisions, design, and build more performant, secure, scalable, and robust applications.

Additionally, understanding database programming opens the doors to exciting new career opportunities and future-proofs your career in this volatile software engineering landscape.

But, as this article suggests, database programming is fundamentally about communicating with the database and its management systems using programming languages. These languages, which can differ depending on the type of database and their functionalities, bridge the gap between human intention and the structured world of data.

Database programming languages

Database programming languages are specialized languages used by developers to define and access their databases. These languages enable developers to perform different actions like defining, modifying, and searching for data on the database. They also control access to sensitive data and automate repetitive tasks like backups and data processing.

But before we dive into specific languages, it's important to note that not all databases require you to learn a programming language. For example, HarperDB is language-agnostic, gifting you the flexibility to access databases using your preferred language and tools. This can significantly shorten the learning curve required to build database applications.

Here are a few examples of common database programming languages:

Structured query language, SQL, is one of the most commonly used programming languages with relational databases. Developed by Oracle in the 1970s, SQL allowed users to retrieve, insert, delete, and modify data within these structured databases. It is considered a relatively easy language to learn, making it a popular language choice among beginners. It is also highly versatile and used with a wide range of databases.

Beyond its high-level, approachable language, Python's true power lies in its versatility. From web development, machine learning, and automation to database programming and administration, Python seamlessly adapts to your needs.

Using Python's Object-relational Mappers (ORM) in database programming allows us to create and manipulate data and schemas in our database using Python code. Examples of Python ORMs include The Django ORM, SQLAlchemy, Peewee, PonyORM, and SQLObject.

Since its early days, PHP's database capabilities have been a driving force behind its widespread adoption. Created by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1993, PHP is a server-side scripting language primarily used for web development. It allows you to seamlessly connect and work with databases like MySQL, PostgreSQL, and MariaDB to create dynamic web pages.

C# is an object-oriented, component-oriented programming language that runs on the .NET framework. It works particularly well with relational databases like MySQL or Microsoft's SQL Server. The C# programming language also offers robust libraries and tools like ADO.NET and Entity Framework, making connecting and interacting with databases accessible for developers.

R is a specialized tool used for statistical computing and data analysis. It provides powerful tools for data manipulation, analysis, and visualization.

R has grown in popularity, especially in the data science and machine learning space, and this upward trend has resulted in an increased use of R for accessing and analyzing data stored in databases.

Now that you have an insight into what database programming languages can do and have explored some popular options let us dive into practical steps to get you started with database programming.

Getting Started with Database Programming

As we recognize the impact of database programming in modern software development, exploring online courses, books, and comprehensive tutorials can be invaluable resources for anyone looking to enter the database programming space. Here are some excellent places to start:

Understand the fundamentals
To be good at database programming, you must know - well, databases, and although solutions like HarperDB are democratizing the development of databases, a deep understanding of databases makes it easier for you to map real-world relationships between data onto the database and its tables.

The knowledge of databases serves as the building block of your journey as a database programmer, making it easier for you to transform questions into precise queries and manipulate and manage large amounts of information.

Additionally, learning about databases empowers you to optimize performance, enhance data security, and effectively troubleshoot when you run into issues, ensuring the integrity and reliability of the data ecosystem. But this knowledge is only the tip of the iceberg. After grasping the database fundamentals, what is the next step?

SQL can be considered the lingua franca of databases, and although ORMs offer a powerful layer of abstractions that allows you to write queries in the language of your choice, they do not replace the need for understanding core SQL concepts.

SQL puts you in the driver's seat of your data. With intuitive commands like SELECT, UPDATE, DELETE, and INSERT INTO, you can craft precise queries, fine-tune them and troubleshoot any issues that may arise. This level of control has made SQL a highly sought-after skill across many fields. As a result, talented creators around the globe have developed a wealth of resources to help engineers master this very powerful skill.

Dive into the learning pool
Explore the following resources to propel you forward in your database programming journey:

Practice makes perfect
Like any software engineering path, database programming mastery is built on practice. It is important that you start small and run simple queries on sample databases to grasp the basic CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) operations, which are the backbone of every modern application.

Build more projects and create databases for your applications, such as an e-commerce application, a music collection, or a to-do list. This hands-on experience will solidify and expose knowledge gaps in your understanding.

Additionally, open-source projects are a great way to learn and contribute to cutting-edge database programming. The 2022 Open source report found that 86% of managers want open-source talent on their teams. This means you can gain valuable experience while helping build amazing tools. Here are some examples of open-source database projects you can check out:

Finally, connecting with other database programmers is a valuable resource. You can get feedback on your work, share helpful tools and tips, stay up-to-date with the latest trends, collaborate on projects, and even get help troubleshooting tricky queries.

In summary

Whether driven by curiosity, career aspirations, or a general passion for data, understanding databases and how to interact with them and their data unlocks many opportunities and possibilities.

By understanding the principles behind database programming and its role in modern software development, you can become empowered to build dynamic, performant applications, analyze critical insights, and manage complex systems.

This overview discusses programming languages like SQL, Python, etc., and their power in managing and manipulating data. It also guides readers through books, courses, and open source projects to get their careers started in database programming.

Finally, mastery of database programming is not a destination but a continuous learning curve. Be comfortable with not knowing everything, ask questions, try new things, and learn from others who share your passion. Build your skills in public consistently, and watch them grow exponentially over time.

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