Mikey, 30, from Houston, Texas, graduated the Welding Specialist with Pipefitting program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in October 2022.
Thanks for your time, Mikey. Did you enroll in pipefitting from the start or add it later?
I added the pipefitting after. I was so new to it all that I thought, ‘What would it hurt to know just that much more?’ I rolled straight from the Professional Welder program into the three-month Pipefitting course.
That’s awesome. What did you do after high school?
I worked at a skate shop for about 12 years before coming to TWS. It’s something I was passionate about, definitely, but after a while, I wasn’t making enough money. I was already the manager, and I was getting paid as much as I was ever going to get paid there. I just needed something else to do. One day, basically, I woke up and knew I needed a life change, so I made myself go sign up for school at Tulsa.
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Why welding school?
I said to myself one day, what do I have to do to make some money? And I said jokingly, do I need to weld? Then I thought about it some more and decided it sounded really good actually. I started looking at YouTube videos and getting interested in it. I knew I wanted to try it out.
But where did the idea of welding come from? Had you tried it before?
I honestly don’t know. No idea. Nobody in my family had welded, I didn’t have any friends that do it, so it was an epiphany, I guess! I didn’t do shop in high school; I’d never tried welding.
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What did you enjoy most about your experience at Tulsa Welding School?
I liked the structure, just having new things to learn every day. I was so used to doing the same thing over and over and over again for 12 years. Having new things to conquer, learn, or accomplish every day was really good for me. I liked the challenge. That’s pretty much what those 12 years had lacked, a challenge. Even when I started that job, I’d already been skating for so long. I knew everything about it.
How was the program? Did you get frustrated?
Oh, definitely. It wasn’t the easiest thing when I first started, but after a few weeks to get used to it, I started getting better and better. It was a challenge in the first few weeks, but a challenge is a good thing!
Did you ever think you’d made the wrong decision?
I’m sure there must have been some of those days, but the benefits outweighed those thoughts. I was never seriously going to quit. In fact, about halfway through the program, I quit the skate shop so I could focus more on the welding and get ready to dive into that part of my life.
With no prior experience, did you have enough access to the instructors?
Oh yeah, for sure. The instructors are great, really funny, and full of knowledge. They were very helpful. They’d even go as far as to tell you how your coworkers are going to be treating you if you’re a new guy and how to handle those situations. So, it wasn’t just the welding they helped us with, but also the lifestyle situations too. They covered everything.
At 30, were you older than a lot of your classmates?
Definitely. But I made friends with everybody. My best friend in school was 19 and I’m 30, so that’s a weird situation. But I was green, super new to it, so it’s like those years difference didn’t even matter really.
So, you just graduated, are you working?
Yes, I work for a company called SteelCon. They’re out of Colorado, but they just opened in Houston. It’s industrial and commercial structural fabrication. We fabricate the bones of buildings. At the moment, we’re sending these square steel tubing pieces out to an energy company, and they’re going to use them to build their place.
How did you get the job?
Weirdly, I went to a live music show, and I ended up talking to the drummer. I told him about my school, and he said he knew a guy who was looking for welders! He gave me a number to contact the guy. I called him and went over a week later to take the welding test. I’ve been here ever since!
How random was that!?
I know. It’s crazy how it all worked out. I was five weeks into my pipefitting course at that point, so I still had maybe six or seven weeks to go. I went to school in the morning, and then went over to work part-time in the afternoon.
After 12 years in your last job, are you happy with the money you’re making now?
Oh, yeah, definitely. From day one two months ago, I was already making more than I was at the skate shop, and the only way is up from here.
Are you enjoying the job?
Yes. I mean, I just worked my first full day yesterday. Now I’ve finished school and I’m full time. But yeah, after I get off work, I’m so tired, I just fall right to sleep. I know I did a good day’s work. It’s just comforting, you know, and it feels worthwhile.
What do you enjoy most about being a welder?
I think it’s unique. There are a lot of welders out there, but definitely not in my world. I didn’t know any others. So, to tell people you’re a welder, they get interested and ask about it. I like that it’s not a regular run-of-the-mill job, I suppose.
What’s your career goal from here?
It’s still so new right now. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll be able to answer that question better in a couple months. But as far as I can tell so far, just basically learning everything there is to learn in this building right here and go from there. Basically, I want to become just as knowledgeable as the boss over here and then decide what to do after that.
Did you make connections at Tulsa? People you’ll stay in touch with as your careers develop?
I think so, definitely. I still have some of my teachers’ contacts too. I’ll be talking to them more if I ever have questions or anything like that.
What advice do you have for students to be successful at Tulsa Welding School?
Don’t miss any days. Make sure to go to school every day because something could fly right by you when you miss a day. I went as much as I could, but there were definitely days where I’d come in and be like, “Wow, I really missed a lot in a day!” If that happens, you’ve just got to play catch up. Ask your classmates to help you. Ask your teachers to circle back and help you, and they will. But you know, just try not to miss days. If you’d been there that day, you wouldn’t have missed it. You would’ve been already on it and not fallen behind.
Was it worth adding the pipefitting course?
Yeah, definitely. It’s pretty useful for what I’m doing now. It’s pretty close, actually.
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).