Harvard Business Review has called it the “sexiest job of the 21st Century.” It’s the data scientist, and the job category is one of the hottest job trends in years. Those with the good fortune to land one of these jobs are sometimes regarded as the new superheroes, or the job market’s “unicorns.”

What is a data scientist, and why is the profession commanding such attention? Data scientists, many of whom are trained at university graduate schools in programs such as Lewis University’s online Masters in Data Science, sift through the massive amounts of numerical information that companies are generating on a daily basis. With their training, data scientists can make sense of the numbers and glean insights that can be used to benefit the business.

Data science is currently getting attention because of the Big Data trend. With companies now able to continuously gather data - from websites, mobile devices, social media tools and legacy systems, not to mention the burgeoning Internet of Things - businesses today are drowning in data. This is information that, when examined with discerning eyes, ostensibly reveals the trends that could help better serve customers, increase sales or keep their businesses growing.

Data scientists are also in demand because there is a shortage of qualified data science professionals on the market today. According to a survey by the MIT Sloan Management Review, 43 percent of companies report a lack of appropriate analytic skills as a key challenge.

The tasks a data scientist may perform daily may differ from company to company. Executive recruiting firm Burtch Works says data analytics professionals may serve a variety of roles. Predictive analytics professionals might use their quantitative skills to gain insights from internal data - transactions, interactions or behaviors - and make recommendations on how the business can use those insights.

Data scientist are the analytics professions responsible for acquiring, cleaning and transforming data to glean those invaluable insights.

Companies today are looking for people who possess the interests and skills that can make them successful data scientists. These skills include:

  • A love of numbers: People with a background in math, stats and the sciences do well as data scientists. Those with masters or doctoral degrees in these disciplines can easily make a transition to data science.
  • Technological prowess: Data scientists need also to be comfortable working with computers and should possess computer coding skills. Knowledge of technologies like Hadoop or coding languages such as Python are a plus.
  • A flair for design: The ability to translate data graphically for business audiences is key.
  • Intellectual curiosity: Good data scientists relish the idea of digging through piles of data and making connections and corollaries not readily observed. Associative thinking is crucial for data scientists.
  • A creative bent: Data scientists need to be able to take the minute and create a big picture from the data they’re seeing.
  • Communications pros: To illustrate the value of their insights, data scientists must be able to easily articulate their findings to business people.
  • Ability to provide counsel: In addition to being able to articulate their findings, data scientists must make recommendations based on their findings. Knowledge of general business best practices or of a particular industry can set candidates apart.

With data scientists in high demand, those looking to make data science a career are likely to find opportunities across a number of industries. The current emphasis within organizations on gathering and analyzing data means there are jobs to be had in everything from technology to media, healthcare, finance, insurance, automotive, aerospace or the pharmaceutical industry.

Data scientists are commanding high salaries across these industries. Burtch Works places the median salary for a junior data scientist at $91,000 while those managing teams of 10 or more data scientists may earn as much as $250,000. In addition, Glassdoor ranked data science as one of the top 25 jobs for 2015 and as the 15th highest paying in-demand job.

Of course, receiving training and schooling as a data scientist can help set candidates apart in the job market. According to Burtch Works, 46 percent of data scientists have PhDs and 42 percent hold Master’s degrees. Programs such as Lewis’s online Master’s in Data Science can provide those interested in data science, the background and critical skills, to pursue a lucrative career in data science.