Grad Connection – Meet Rudy Ortega

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rudy-ortegaRudy, aged 29, had a double celebration in September 2016; he graduated from the Refrigeration Technologies program the day before his 29th birthday. Rudy worked as a maintenance tech, including air conditioning maintenance, for five years before coming to RSI. We spoke with him just a week after graduation.

Thanks for sharing your story Rudy. How did you get into HVAC?

When I graduated high school in 2009 I had no intention of becoming a maintenance tech. But I had family & friends who always needed work done on their houses, so I figured it would be good to learn about maintenance. I first got a job as a groundskeeper at an apartment complex, but when a maintenance opportunity came up, I was eager for it. The problem was they wanted an HVAC tech. I took an online test, but I failed miserably because I didn’t know anything!

At my fourth job they hired me on the spot for maintenance. But a lot of the calls I got, especially in the summer, were for A/C repair. I was always calling my supervisor, or somebody else, looking for help. I was bothered by the fact that they’d come and fix the problem like it was nothing. The issue was they couldn’t really explain how or why they were able to fix it, and that frustrated me.

Is that why you went back to school?

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Yeah, I just wasn’t getting the on-the-job training I hoped I would. They did their best, but they didn’t know the things I wanted to learn. I wanted to better myself by understanding the concept of an AC refrigeration cycle. I wanted to know how it works, why it works, what it does exactly, and why it does what it does. I didn’t just want to know how to fix things, I wanted to go deeper. I also wanted to be different from the rest of the crew, to the point where I can actually help them now.

Why did you choose RSI?

I wanted to learn from people who could pour their knowledge into me. I saw a commercial online, so I saved it and made a promise to myself & my family that I was going to go to school and learn everything I could about air conditioning. I wanted to put myself in a position where I could have my own business one day, and be able to teach people on the job in the way I wish I’d been taught. I did the night course. I’ve got a trade, and I tell you it’s changed my life forever.

How so?

I knew in my heart that I was set for life once I graduated RSI – I had no doubts about that. I could never have imagined myself in this position with the knowledge that I have. I’m a maintenance supervisor now at a property in Casa Grande. The company I work for has four properties locally but 40 statewide. I get corporate managers calling me; office people from apartment complexes calling me. I’m putting in processes that they’re now using at all their other properties.

What was your favorite part of the program, and why?

rudy-ortega-2The biggest thing I enjoyed were the instructors themselves; they are very knowledgeable and they do an amazing job at breaking down the main core of an A/C system. How it works; why it works. They go into great depth.

More importantly it was hands-on, so you’re not just retaining it mentally, you’re actually looking at the inside structure of a unit physically. You get the theory and practice.

Where do you hope your career will be in three years?

I’m going to continue in the HVAC industry – no doubt about it. I’m in the process now of getting my NATE [North American Technician Excellence] certification so I can wear the NATE patch on my shirt. Becoming a real HVAC specialist is my goal.

Would you like to do that with the company you’re at now?

They’ve taken good care of me here; let me say that. I’ve been with the company five years, and at this property for about six months. They gave me a raise when I became maintenance supervisor, and I get a free apartment. I know the owner values my work, so that’s a privilege and an honor in itself. All four properties in the area now call me automatically when there’s an HVAC issue they can’t figure out.

Having said that, I’d like to get away from the general maintenance side and stick with just HVAC. The owner had an HVAC specialist tech on staff before that covered all 40 of his properties in Mesa, Phoenix, Chandler, Casa Grande and Tucson. So if he wants to go that route again, I’d jump at the chance. Right now I’m playing it smart, saving some money. But I do want to specialize in just HVAC. My boss also knows that I’m also starting my own A/C business. I’m going to have my own LLC set up by November.

Your own business? Would that be residential, commercial?

Everything and anything that has to do with refrigeration and A/C. I’ll work on commercial, residential, industrial, automotive, low temp, mid temp – you name it. I’m just learning and learning. I want to put everything I learned at school to use; I want to get my money’s worth!

What’s your dream job, Rudy?

I want to become one of the most successful HVAC engineers out there, helping people to save money. I want to get to a point where people know me, recognize me for my faithful work, my honest work.

Your goal is become an HVAC specialist. Did RSI give you what you needed to follow that path?

Yes. You learn as you go, and it’s a different ball game in the field, but the training was amazing. You’ve got to be able to explain to a customer how a system works. What you did to fix it. It’s not enough just to tell them it’s fixed; you’ve got to be able to explain what went wrong and why. That’s what RSI gives you.

What’s your favorite aspect of your trade?

Helping people; helping them save money. Not just making A/Cs run more efficiently, but actually being honest in what needs to be done. For example, when I started at this property, I had 15 A/C units that needed to be looked at. Out of those 15, I only had to replace five. The others I managed to fix and get running again so they’ll last another few years for people.

Did you make some good connections at school?

As a matter of fact, and this was a real honor, two fellow students called me because they were working on units and needed help – they called me! I felt like an instructor! That was very humbling.

How was your graduation ceremony?

They asked me to speak at graduation. It was totally unexpected, but it was very cool! I kept it straight and simple. I told the graduating class that their future was up to them, and only them. To make good decisions, and to know that hard work will always pay off in the end. And if they need motivation, just look at their family. They gave me an Outstanding Student coin – that almost had me in tears. Out of 60 people, only 10 got honored. That’s something I’ll remember the rest of my life.

Do you have a family Rudy?

Yes, Lorraine and I have been married six years. I have a boy and a girl, aged 3 and 1.

So you have your hands full?

Well, Lorraine does!

What do you do for fun?

We make the most of family time. We go out exploring. We just came back from California this past weekend for my birthday. So we try to get out and about together.

If you were a millionaire for a day, what would you do?

I’d like to help people out, sincerely. Those people who are in dire need – home, food, clothes, whatever. I know I’ll be able to take care of myself and my family through HVAC, but if I had money to blow away like that, I’d want to make sure that I did something memorable with it.

What advice would you give to people considering attending RSI?

Do a personal examination to work out whether this career is going to be a good fit for you. Really sit down and think about it; ask yourself questions. Am I willing to put in the time and effort to be successful? Because it does take time and sacrifice. Am I going to put this education to use? Is this going to be effective for the long term? Make sure you’re going for the right reasons.

If you have passion and desire, you’re going to end up fulfilling it. But if you’re coming to school because someone else is telling you to, that’s not going to work out as well. You’ve got to want it. I had to drive every day from Casa Grande to Phoenix. But I wanted it so I did what it took. I went faithfully – yes, I did re-phase twice – but I did not quit. I’d come too far to quit.

If you’re an RSI 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 full name, your graduation date (month/year) and program name.

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