"Mastery With SQL" is a great course

I just finished Neil Sainsbury's video course Mastery With SQL. It's fantastic. I've been using relational databases for a great many years at this point, but I'd never taken the time to sit down and consciously learn SQL; I'd just been getting by through a combination of osmosis and confused googling. After Neil's course, I feel like all the gaps I'd had in my fundamentals have been filled. I want to talk about what I thought was so great about this course, both the content and the form.

Course structure: Content is King

Mastery With SQL's layout
Mastery With SQL's layout

Mastery With SQL's production is spare. Most videos exclusively feature a fullscreen DBeaver window split vertically between SQL code and a query results table. Neil discusses the code in a simple voiceover—no sound effects, no fancy animations or editing, just code and talking. Occassionally, when he needs to explain a concept, he'll sketch something in text right there in the editor window. There are maybe half a dozen simple powerpoint slides in the entire course, for the rare videos that are all concept and no code.

This works incredibly well. With no movie magic to hide behind, the narration and live coding have to be razor sharp. And they are. Neil explains everything lucidly, and the pace is calm but compact. The content is written for someone with no prior knowledge without babying the viewer.

Exercises: Where learning happens

Mastery With SQL exercises
Mastery With SQL exercises

The exercises are similarly spare in presentation. A page of exercises is plain text, with a handful of problems, each phrased as a request for a particular SQL query with a hint about the shape of the output and the tables you'll need. The answers (and often some additional explanation for why things work that way) are also plain text, separated by a screenful of whitespace.

The course software does almost nothing besides host videos and text. It doesn't try to do any complicated code parsing or interactive problem sets. You're expected to have everything running on your computer and try things out there. You click the "Complete and continue" button when you feel you're done with that page of exercises. Neil isn't going to grade you.

Interleaved videos and exercises

Besides Neil's effective explanations and examples, I think the structure of the course is what's most successful here: nearly every video lecture has a set of exercises immediately after it. You never go more than 10 minutes or so without being prompted to construct your own queries in your own editor using the stuff that was just discussed. The course comes with a great set of example data with tons of opportunity for exploration and application, and getting your own hands on this data after a lecture is where the real learning happens.

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I'd love to see more educational content follow this approach. I'm not opposed to fancy video editing, After Effects, or splashy interactive exercises, but I've seen too many courses that lean on those things at the expense of the content. Mastery With SQL strips all of that away and focuses fully on the topic at hand, and as a result is one of the most effective video courses I've ever seen.

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