David, 43, was born in the Philippines on an American military base. He moved back to the United States with his family when he was very young, specifically to Alaska at first, which is quite the climate change from the Philippines. David is a Welding Instructor at RSI.
Thanks for your time, David; how long have you been at RSI?
I’ve been at RSI for about four months.
How long have you been welding?
About 12 years, welding every process there is. Welding is a second career for me. I bussed tables from the age of 15 and then I joined the U.S. Army in 1997, just after I turned 17. I served for almost four years and got out before I turned 21. Then I went back into the restaurant industry for another 15 years or so. I was a restaurant manager, a bartender, but I needed a change. At the age of 30 I became a welder, actually a helper first, and I haven’t stopped since. For about four years I did both jobs – I was helping/welding and working in restaurants. I was 34 when I finally got out of restaurants for good and focused on welding.
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Thank you for your service. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an Aerospace Engineer and I went down that route a little. I started working on my Engineering degree, but I stopped. I have worked in aerospace though; I did some aerospace TIG welding!
What kinds of welding work did you do during your career in the field?
I did stainless steel pipe welding at GE Power & Water for eight years in Virginia, and then moved on from there. It was mostly boiler work and pipe welding. I traveled to a lot of different plants with GE. I did do some structural welding, but I would say most of my time was pipe welding and boiler work.
Why did you decide to get into teaching?
Actually, teaching was not even on my radar. For personal reasons, I had to go back and forth from Virginia to Arizona frequently over the last few years, so I really didn’t have a stable job. I’d get a job, then I’d have to stop working to go back to Virginia…and then come back. Early last year Alex DeClair, who was the Director of Training at RSI at the time, reached out and asked if I wanted to do a weld test for RSI. I didn’t, because I wasn’t sure I was ready to teach welding because I still liked doing it. I wasn’t there yet.
It must have been six months later that I heard back from Alex again; he asked, “Do you want to take a weld test for me?” At this point I’d just taken a weld test for a company and was getting ready to take a job working 6x12s, which I wasn’t looking forward to. So, I asked Alex what the hours were. When he said 40 hours a week, I decided I was ready. I’d realized I was getting too old to weld 80/90 hours a week.
So, four months in. Are you enjoying it? What do you enjoy most about teaching?
Yes, I’m enjoying it very much. I enjoy the fact that my experiences can transfer into everything they do. It’s just amazing to watch them not be able to do anything at first, then with a little instruction, just a little input, maybe an hour later, they’re putting down nice beads. It’s amazing how well and how much people can absorb and learn. I never thought teaching would be like that. It’s amazing.
So, you’re only a relatively young man at 43, is teaching your career from here?
Yeah, I’m retiring from here, this is it for me. I don’t need to do anything else. I enjoy it.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you?
I was born left-handed, and I’m now right-handed! In the Bible it says being left-handed is the work of the devil, right? My mom is from the Philippines, very religious, and so having a left-handed child was taboo. So, when I was writing left-handed in first grade and going into second grade here in America, my mom noticed. She made me write right-handed, with my left hand behind my back. She basically forced me.
So, I do a lot of things backwards and I often get comments like, “Why do you weld that way?” It’s because I’m naturally a left-handed person. So, a lot of the things I’ve learned in this industry, I learned left-handed. But I can adjust both ways now. Some things I have to learn left-handed, to be able to do them right-handed!
That ability must really help when you work with left-handed students.
It does help, for sure. I can relate to how they need to do things. I can say, “If you’re left-handed, this is just the way you’ve got to do it!”
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
Gandhi. That would be a great conversation. Just to listen to him speak, to see if I could understand him. I’d love to be able to hear the wisdom that came out of his mouth in person.
Tell us about your family life, David.
I just got done with a divorce. That’s why I had to come and go between Virginia and Arizona. I have three kids of my own. I have two girls; my eldest daughter is 15 and my youngest daughter is 10 – they still live in Virginia with their mother. My son is about to turn 12, and he lives here with me in Arizona. Then I also have two older stepchildren, aged 18 and 17, that I have raised since they were three and two years old. They also live in Virginia. My girlfriend, Celina, and I have been together going on three years. She has two kids, as well as two adopted kids. So, I’m involved in nine children’s lives! For a guy who really didn’t want kids when I was in my 20s, it’s kind of ironic! So, it’s a busy life. One of the reasons why I wanted to only work 40 hours is because I want to spend more time with the kids. I’m getting there.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students considering RSI?
Don’t give up. Do not stop. You get better every time you weld, whether you think it or not. Every time you mess up, you learn what not to do next time. You learn from all your welds every day. So, keep at it.
I didn’t get the chance to go to welding school. I wish I’d had the opportunity that my students have. I would’ve probably gone right out of the military, and not even thought about it twice. Had I started welding when I got out of the Army, I could maybe think about retiring now! I mean, the longer you’re in this trade, your pay rate just gets higher and higher. So, the more you do, the better. A lot of welders are in this trade to make good money, so the more time you put into it, the more you will get out of it. Plus, as you get older and more experienced, even if you get to the point where you don’t want to weld anymore because your body hurts, you can become a weld supervisor, or a Certified Weld Inspector. There are so many opportunities in your future, if you don’t give up.
You get an unexpected afternoon to yourself, what would you do with that time?
I would spend it with my kids; we’d play ball, catch, just get out and do something. We have a park across the street, maybe we’d cook out there. Maybe I’d take my bike out for a ride if it’s nice weather.
Bicycle or motorcycle?
Of course! That seems to be mandatory equipment for welders! Do you have a favorite tool?
I had a chipping hammer that I liked. It was just a nice Estwing chipping hammer that fit my hand really well. You use it to clean up your slag after a weld, and I used it for everything.
What was your favorite part of your time in the field?
What I enjoyed most was building something from nothing, creating from raw material. You just have some plate and beams, and here, go build a building. It’s amazing what you can do with a welding machine. Just building something from the ground up, but from nothing.
If you were to tell someone “Thank you” for making you the person you are today, who would it be?
My ex-wife Carrie. I would thank her for pushing me to go into this industry. I would have never done it if she didn’t say, “Go try it!”