Network Until You Get Work: How Clayton Seastrand Landed His Job in Data Modeling

Remodeling. Insurance sales. Production analysis. After graduating from college, Clayton Seastrand tried numerous careers on for size — but nothing totally clicked.

While working at a manufacturing plant in 2018, he started collaborating with IT engineers on the floor — and quickly discovered an interest in data. “We would gather all this information, but no one knew what to do with it,” Clayton said. “I really wanted to learn how to make it more user-friendly.”

Soon after, he stumbled upon Vanderbilt University Coding Boot Camp — a newly launched program specializing in full stack web development. “The curriculum included everything I wanted to learn more about,” Clayton recalled. “Node.js, MongoDB, SQL, front end, back end.” Eager to change paths, he enrolled in the course’s inaugural cohort. 

Months later, the father of three had snagged a rewarding new role as a data modeling analyst at Cigna Healthspring. Here’s his story, in his words.

Why did you choose to pursue coding, in particular? 

It’s a great creative outlet. As a programmer, you’re manipulating code and telling the computer how you want it to act. You can create something — whether it’s a webpage, app, or dataset — that helps businesses make better, more informed decisions. I wanted to make data and technology accessible to more people. For instance, the leaders running a company may be business-minded — but without the right data, they can’t operate in the best interest of their organization. A large portion of the population could benefit from technology, and a lot of those people also happen to be the ones who are most put off by it. 

How was your academic experience in the boot camp? 

It was really positive. I’d done my research, so I knew what to expect. I knew a lot of information would be coming at me nonstop, and was prepared for that. That doesn’t mean there weren’t days where I felt overwhelmed, though. There were. Many times, I thought, I have to asterisk this, come back, and dive in deeper. As the weeks passed, early concepts got reinforced by later ones. It was like building blocks — something may not have made sense at first, but it did by the end. 

What challenges did you encounter in class?

I’m very hard on myself — if I don’t understand something one-hundred percent I convince myself I don’t understand it at all. In the boot camp, I had to remind myself: Through time and repetition, you’ll understand. My instructor and TAs were great at encouraging me to do independent research. They didn’t just feed me answers and move along, which ties into my learning philosophy. If I really want to understand something, I have to find the conclusion myself. That’s how concepts get solidified in my mind. 

Were they any group projects you particularly enjoyed working on?

For the second group project, I brought in a real-world case study. Traditionally, preventative maintenance on large-scale manufacturing equipment is time-based — for example, you may check a machine every three months. At my company, they were doing periodic preventative maintenance loosely based on machine usage. We developed an app that tracked maintenance by the actual number of cycles a machine ran. The engineers at my company were ecstatic. They had been trying to build a tracking system using Excel spreadsheets. Now, they could just type in their info to easily track the last time a machine was maintained and create a schedule for the next maintenance. 

Did you lean on Career Services for support during the boot camp? 

Yes, extensively. That was the piece I hadn’t anticipated when I signed up for the boot camp. I was so focused on learning the technology that I really hadn’t contemplated the Career Services portion. After completing the program, I started attending every online event they hosted. Virtual whiteboarding sessions, resume workshops, mock salary negotiations, talks on overcoming imposter syndrome — I signed up for as many events as I could. Even if I had been before, I’d go again since there were different presenters and different questions being asked. 

How did you land your current data modeling job at Cigna? 

A few months after graduating from the boot camp, I sat down with my Career Services coach to prioritize the steps I needed to take to land a new job. He looked at my list and said, “No. You’ve got a lot of good stuff here, but the amount of time you’re spending on networking isn’t nearly enough. You have that as a one-line item. It needs to be fifty percent of everything you’re doing.” That was tough to put into practice, since I was working full-time. But I started attending local meetups, telling myself: You have to make something work. Network, network, network. 

One day, I went to an event about working with recruiters. I was blunt and asked the moderator, “What should I expect from a recruiter? I’ve reached out before — most of the time, I don’t get a call back. I know they’re already overloaded. But what can I do to stand out?” She took that as a challenge. Two days later, I received a phone call from a local recruiter. He’s the one who introduced me to the open role at Cigna.

How did the boot camp prepare you for your interview at Cigna?

I was more confident in myself because of the boot camp. We’d had interview practice webinars where I learned how to condense my answers and speak clearly. I also wasn’t afraid to sit and let there be silence when I needed to think. The recruiting team was impressed with me and my answers. Within three days of the interview, I had a job offer — for a much higher salary than I’d anticipated. 

What has this new job meant to you?

It’s a fully remote role, which is something I was really looking for. I wanted a remote job down the line, but didn’t think I’d achieve that goal for a couple more years. When Cigna said I was remote regardless of COVID-19, I could hardly believe it. In my last job, I spent two to three hours on the road per day commuting back and forth. Now, I have those hours of my life back. Little things like that add up. This job opened a whole new level of freedom and opportunity for me. I feel hopeful for the future. 

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