Meet the Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century

A scruffy young man works at a computer in an open office.

The data scientist is the new rock star.

Looking for a hot career in a dynamic industry? Consider this: insurance is a forward-looking profession that relies on historical data to prepare for the future. With data ranging from basic observations, like that ships sometimes sink during long sea voyages, to more sophisticated probability tables of people’s life spans that are used for calculating life insurance, the result is that the data scientist is the new rock star, making it possibly the sexiest job of the 21st century.

In fact, the following highlights account for why the Harvard Business Review proclaimed that data scientist is “The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century.” The authors of the related article say they coined the term in 2008, noting that data scientists’ “sudden appearance on the business scene reflects the fact that companies are now wrestling with information that comes in varieties and volumes never encountered before.”

Today, as technology makes more data available every picosecond, data analysis is increasingly crucial — and data scientists are in great demand in the risk management and insurance field. From telematics devices in cars, which collect data that is used to create more accurate car insurance rates, to wearable fitness trackers that report on physical activity in order to reduce health insurance risks, the Internet of Things (IoT) has opened the floodgates of how much information can be analyzed by today’s companies.

According to Vijay Singh, 25, a data scientist at Verisk Analytics in Jersey City, New Jersey, putting that data to work through predictive modeling is definitely the sexiest part of being a data scientist. While he notes that gathering the best possible data takes a lot of time, he says it ultimately results in more accurate and rewarding modeling algorithms.

“When you have your model and you see it’s working — that it’s actually predicting something — it’s really the most satisfying thing,” Singh says.

Data scientists like Singh are Master Mathematicians. The things they do with numbers and statistics require a rare mix of proficiency in math, information technology and analysis. These careers are relatively new, having evolved to use and maximize the exponential growth of data in business and everyday life. With formal training in computer science, modeling, statistics, math and analytics, data scientists use strong business and communications skills to research, identify and recommend solutions to challenges. The best data scientists are inquisitive and can spot trends in a sea of information.

Careers in data analytics are projected to grow much faster than other, more traditional careers over the next decade — and given that the demand for data scientists is high and the supply of them is relatively low, those who get into the field tend to be handsomely rewarded.

According to two 2015 studies, the median salary of a junior-level data scientist is about $91,000, while managers overseeing teams of data analysts earn base salaries of more than $250,000 — a particularly impressive figure when you consider that the median household income in the U.S. is less than $54,000.

Singh says he knew he wanted to study data, but that, like many, didn’t consider it could lead to a career in insurance at first.

“When I was graduating from Oklahoma State, I talked with several good companies,” he says. “I had no idea about insurance outside my own policies. I never thought that one day I’d be in insurance. I just knew I wanted to do the things I actually studied. Now I’m doing exactly those things in the data science field. Plus I have an amazing view of Manhattan.”