Graduate Connections – Meet Judge Leiter

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Judge, 27, from Bridge Creek, Oklahoma, graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in late July 2020.

Thanks for your time, Judge. Tell us what you did after high school.

I went to OU. I graduated with a major in Political Science, and a minor in History. What they don’t tell you when you go to a four-year college is that it doesn’t always work out the way you imagine it will!

Explain what you mean by that.

After college I went through a cycle of switching jobs. I’m not someone who gives up easily, but if I’m miserable in some soulless job, I look for greener pastures. If I’m not happy, I move on. I probably did that for four years, just trying to find something I was happy with, while still getting a good paycheck.

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What brought you to welding school?

I knew a lot of welders before going to TWS; a good friend got back from Afghanistan and got into welding on the pipeline; I saw the success he had. I was at a point in my life where I thought I could give it a try.

Why did you choose Tulsa Welding School?

I researched welding schools and came across Tulsa Welding School. I knew it was reputable because every welder I asked knew of Tulsa Welding School, but they’d never heard of the other schools I mentioned. Finally, I just rolled the dice! I’d never welded a day in my life, but I decided to give it a shot.

I was about to ask if you’d ever welded…?

No, never. I’ve worked with my hands a lot, especially when I was in high school, so the hard work aspect is something I’m familiar with, but I just took a gamble! The fact it was only seven months definitely came into my decision. I looked at other trades that required two years at school. If you spend that much time at something and discover you hate it, you have to bite the bullet to see it through. But seven months and with the affordability of it too, welding just made sense to me. I figured I’m a young guy, I can spare seven months; worst-case scenario, I’ll learn an awesome skill!

What was your favorite part of your Tulsa Welding School experience?

Firstly, I’ve always liked Tulsa, the city, but I’d never spent a lot of time here. I had a great time living here for a few months. I actually met the girl I’m now dating here. When it comes to the school, it was definitely the instructors. There are still guys I go to, to this day, with questions. Welding is a tight knit community, so the friends I made, instructors and classmates, was probably my favorite part.

How did you find the program with zero experience? Was it hard?

I remember the first day it was all just so foreign to me; they start you off stick welding, and every weld I did just looked awful. I did start second-guessing myself, but I had to remind myself that it was day one! Legitimately, you’re going to get better at anything if you put the time in, and that’s what I did. Day after day I got better and better. In the third phase I won Top One and thought, “How did that happen?”

Did you find welding frustrating at all?

Some of the processes and positions are hard. Everybody handles frustration differently; I’m my biggest self-critic. I never need anyone else to tell me how bad I’m doing. Every time I struggled with something I’d go to an instructor and ask them to watch me, show me, or tell me where I was going wrong. There was always some resource around, instructors or classmates, to help me correct whatever mistake I was making. If there was a student who was not having a tough time, I’d just watch him. I’d take some time to observe and adapt what I was doing. I always felt comfortable using the resources available to me.

Talk to us about getting a job after welding school. What was your plan?

My plan was to go be a welder helper, working with my buddy on the pipeline. But I went to school at the worst time because the COVID pandemic hit not long after I started. Pipeline is kind of down right now, there are a lot of people just waiting it out, so my original plan wasn’t an option when I left school.

Did you work with Career Services then?

Yes, I started going to Career Services to see what kind of job leads they had. I actually got offered a job in Sacramento. But then a short-term opportunity came up to go to Arizona with my buddy and work on the border wall. I knew a lot of welders before going to school so I had a lot of opportunities that you wouldn’t normally get right out of the gate. I thought going to Arizona sounded awesome as I’m still a novice; I was excited to take what I’d learned and adapt it, real fast, to real world applications.

It turned out that my buddy wasn’t able to go, but I decided to head out. I had one call, they did a background check and told me to get to AZ by this date. I drove out, took a drug test, passed a weld test, and started working. I took a chance; if I didn’t pass the weld test, I was going to turn it into a vacation!

Very cool. Who are you working for?

Southwest Valley Constructors; I was in Bisbee, AZ. I fell in love with that town. The whole thing was an adventure. I had to go to Phoenix in late August to sign up for the union, and then I started on September 1st. The wall was prefabbed, and then concreted in. Then we welded these giant steel plates over any gaps where the sections joined the next ones. I spent a month down there MIG welding them together.

Just a month?

They do sections of the wall at a time; the section I was working on was almost done. There was maybe a month to go but unfortunately, I had to come home early for family reasons.

How was the desert heat?

It wasn’t too bad; I mean it was hot, but it’s not the kind of heat that gets you super-sweaty; you just have to stay hydrated. Because we were on the north side of the wall, we were in the shade most of the day! I was super-nervous about everything; you’re literally on the border with Mexico and you hear the horror stories, but I was always comfortable, I never felt threatened or in danger.

How was the money?

It was amazing, a game changer. I got $30/hr with a $70 per diem. I couldn’t ask for better than that. I worked 60 hrs/week including 20 hours overtime. It was cool to look in the bank account and see that much money coming in. It makes all the hard work worth it. I know that these jobs last just a couple of months at a time. Who knows; I just left a couple of days ago, so they may contact me again to work on a stretch in California. It was an amazing opportunity, it was an historic thing to be working on, and I was grinning ear to ear the whole time I was down there. Now I have experience under my belt to build out my résumé.

What’s your ultimate career goal?

My ultimate goal is to work on the pipeline with my own rig, and private contract myself out.

What is it you enjoy most about your new trade?

It’s actually therapeutic to me, it’s something I really enjoy doing. My mind is always racing but when I’m welding, it doesn’t matter what is going on in the world, 100% of my attention is in front of me.

What advice do you have for new students…for them to be successful at TWS?

Use your resources. If you’re having trouble with something, ask an instructor. If the answer you get isn’t satisfactory, then ask another instructor. Everybody has a different teaching style, not that one is better than another; every welder is different. Try to get a perspective that helps you craft your own way. Other than that, just apply yourself. We had some internal competition that pushed us all to be better welders.

 

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).