Derrick, 21, from Detroit, Michigan, graduated the seven-month Refrigeration Technologies program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in January 2022.
Thanks for your time, Derrick. What did you do before coming to welding school?
When I was in high school, I moved to Spring, Texas, with my parents at 15, going on 16.
My stepdad was in the military, so I moved around a lot. I came to Texas from Colorado. So, I was working at Foot Locker in high school, and once I graduated in 2019, I just continued working there. I just upped my hours.
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So, after a couple of years, what made you enroll in the HVAC program at TWSTC last summer?
I was just tired of working at Foot Locker. I just wanted a better job, a career. I wasn’t going anywhere, and I wanted to do something more. My stepdad was a pipefitter and I understood that pipefitting and HVAC are kind of in the same family. I didn’t want to do exactly what my stepdad was doing, and I didn’t want to do plumbing. I don’t want to deal with toilets! So HVAC seemed like a good field. It’s always hot in Texas, so I figured I’d never be out of work.
What did you enjoy most about your experience at Tulsa Welding School?
My favorite part was being able to work with my hands on different units and components with my classmates. That was a big reason why I was able to graduate: working together with my classmates and actually being able to have the equipment in front of me, rather than just pictures in a book. There was more hands-on time than I expected; I was glad there was that much. I’m a very much a hands-on learner.
Did you have days when you got frustrated?
I did, but being part of a military family, I learned persistence and I learned to take constructive criticism. I feel like some students at school couldn’t do that. When it got hard, yes, it bothered me, but I would rather learn something than give up. Giving up just makes me upset. If I felt like something beat me, it would rack my brain all day. Some things would frustrate me for sure, but at the same time, it was never too much for me to want to continue with it. I guess some people didn’t have that. My class got down to four people by the end. But I worked my butt off for seven months, so I was really excited that I graduated. I did the morning class – 7am to Noon, and then I went to work from 2pm to 10pm. I worked my butt off.
Congratulations on your persistence, and hard work! So, where are you working now?
I work for Aaron Mechanical in Humble, Texas. We do residential and commercial air conditioning. I started about three weeks ago. I’ve started on the Install team.
How did you get the job? Did Career Services help you?
It’s a little unusual. I was working at a nursing home through school, and I stayed there after while I looked for a foot in the door in HVAC. Aaron Mechanical actually serviced the systems at the nursing home I worked at. I’d see a tech almost every couple of weeks. The first time, I was like, “Hey man, are you going up on the roof to work on something? Can I come with? I’m not going to touch anything. I just want to observe.”
I did that with a couple of people and then I’d just ask, “Hey, do you know if you guys are hiring? I’m looking for a job and I’ve got this certification…” Eventually they said to call the office, and they invited me to come down and apply. So, that’s how a couple of the guys actually knew me before I started.
What’s your career plan from here?
I chose HVAC as a career to build a base because by the time I’m 25, I actually want to go to a sound engineering school in Arizona to become a music producer. I’m going to spend the next three/four years here, hopefully working at Aaron Mechanical if things progress as I hope, then I’ll move to Arizona.
HVAC is certainly a needed skill in Arizona. Will you keep working in the field in AZ?
I know HVAC is going to be a continuous thing that’s going to be needed; it’s not going to be phased out or anything. It’s already hot in Texas, and I know once I build that base of experience and move to Arizona, it’s going to be hot there too. So, I’m going to be able to go to school and still be able to have my HVAC career. After I graduate from CRAS, that might not be the end of my HVAC career. Maybe I’ll open my own company, and just be an HVAC contractor on the side. Who knows? A lot can happen in four or five years.
2020 showed how quickly things can change. What do you enjoy most about working in HVAC?
My favorite part, honestly, is that there’s a lot to learn. I’ve always loved to learn, but I’ve never really enjoyed school. But, in the field that I now work in, I have a huge opportunity to learn every day, without being in school! That’s what I really love about it.
Lots of different things to learn about too, right?
Yes, it’s very interesting because HVAC deals with more than just one thing. It’s electricity, it’s water, it’s refrigerant, it’s mechanical. It’s a lot of different things that I’m learning all at once. I feel like with the jobs I worked before, like Foot Locker or the nursing home, those jobs didn’t require much effort. But working in HVAC, I have to really pay attention. I have to have to apply myself. I like the challenge.
Did they give you a timeline for progression with the company?
They didn’t give me a timeline because I guess it just depends on how fast I learn. But I learn really, really well, and fast when I pay attention because I pride myself on being good at things. I like being a ‘Jack of all Trades’ and so I’m learning a lot very quickly. I believe I could be a service tech within maybe a year. That’s just my opinion. It really depends on how well I grow, but I don’t think it’ll be a long time.
Are you happy with that, or would you rather be out on your own now?
They told us in school that some jobs will just throw you in a van and send you out on your own. I was hoping and praying that I did not find a company like that. In between me finding this job and graduating school, I knew a tech that I met at Foot Locker. He let me go out on four or five jobs with him before I found a job. I learned a little bit with him, but I knew I wasn’t ready to just hop in a van and start doing service work on my own, because I’d be at each job for a while!
Did you make some lasting connections, some friends at school you’ll stay in touch with?
I got along with a lot of people there, but I really only kept in contact with one guy because we got along really well. We worked well off each other, learned off each other. I keep in contact with him still today.
What advice do you have for students to be successful at Tulsa Welding School?
My advice is to just stay persistent, learn as much as you can, ask a lot of questions, make connections, and try to get your name out there as much as possible. You want to finish this. So, the best thing that you can do is apply yourself the best you can, come to class, be on time, and do your homework.
If you’re a TWS graduate and would like to share your success and be an inspiration to others, please email [email protected] to be considered for a Graduate Connection interview. Please include details such as your graduation date (month/year), program, and campus name (Tulsa/Jacksonville/Houston).