An Interview With...
John de Guzman
Where were you born?
My dad is Puerto Rican and was working for an advertising agency in NYC. Since he spoke Spanish, they offered him a position abroad in Madrid, Spain. They spent two lovely years there under dictator Fracisco Franco, and that's when I was born. The second time we went I was 5, and we stayed for 16 years.
How many languages do you speak?
English, Spanish and French. The French department at the American School of Madrid was so fantastic. I was fluent after 5 years of study.
Is my information correct that you studied chemical engineering at MIT?
Yup! My only job in chemical engineering was a summer internship at Mobil Oil. I jumped into management consulting right out of college, and have been doing that since to pay the bills.
¡Sí! El único trabajo que tuve en ingeniería química fue con Mobil Oil.
Where did you study music?
I studied classical piano growing up, starting when I was 8 years old. I took modern music composition at college. Without my music classes, I might have gone cross-eyed and crazy with all the studying I had to do! After college, I did a year of jazz music at a music college in Boston, but that turned out to be more of a waste of money than anything. The teachers there were not very good.
Are you a chemical engineer, a musician, a writer, all of the above?
All of them and more! If I had children, they would probably be very confused during "Take Your Child to Work Day." I'd have to take them to an office for work, a piano for music, and a computer for my writing. I spread myself around. I also studied chemical engineering at MIT, so I guess I'm a chemical engineer as well. I get my paycheck by doing management consulting, but I consider myself a musician and writer as well. I think of them as hobbies I like so much, I want to do them for a living.
How did you end up in Management Consulting after studying to be a chemical engineer?
The only thing I knew when I graduated college is that I wanted to be in New York City. I loved that city from the second I stepped foot in it. I originally planned to just move down here and try to be an actor. I had some connections in theater and hoped to use those to get work. Lots of companies come to MIT to interview graduates and try to hire them. February of my senior year, a company approached me about doing consulting. I had no idea what it was, but I spoke to someone from the company for 5 minutes, and I was interested!! I would make good money, and I’d be in NYC. It's funny, because even though I studied chemical engineering at school, I never considered doing chemical engineering once I graduated. Imagine studying to fly an airplane, and then never getting a job flying an airplane! It seems silly, but that's what happened to me. I never thought to work in the field I studied. I know very few people who studied with me who chose engineering as a career. We were all too tired from all the studying we did in school, and we needed a change.
What other types of jobs could you get with a degree in chemical engineering?
To be a chemical engineer, you have to have a lot of skills and knowledge. You have to know about math, chemistry (including organic chemistry, which is the chemistry that happens inside the body), physics, thermodynamics (the study of heat, which is actually really complicated), computer programming and systems (including the reactors and separation processes you'd see in a big factory). Because you know so much as a chemical engineer, almost every company in the world wants to hire you! Here are some industries and the kinds of companies that use chemical engineers: making computers and microchips (Intel, Motorola), petroleum and oil (Exxon, British Petroleum), pharmaceutical drugs (Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson), chemical and product development like new glues or erasers (3M, Proctor & Gamble, BASF), biotechnology research (Genentech), new materials like new tires or tiles for a spacecraft (Michelin, NASA), nuclear processes (government for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons). I liked that being a chemical engineer would allow me to pick work from so many different businesses. Apparently the one I grabbed was consulting, which isn't even on that long, standard list!
How did that course of study prepare you for the work you do today? Do you think you will ever try to get a job in chemical engineering?
I don’t see myself ever working as a chemical engineer, but the skills I learned at MIT are critical to any success I've seen so far in my career. So, even though I'm not actually doing chemical engineering, the skills I learned at MIT are helping me in the work place. For example, I learned how to really analyze a process and how it flows. I learned how to manage my time well; that happens when you have so much to do, you learn to do things well or you don't get to sleep at night and you walk around like a zombie you're so tired. I also learned how to write clearly. Imagine if you were writing an essay on a complicated chemical process. You better write it well, or no one will understand it! Also, a very important skill I learned from engineering was how to analyze data.
What do you enjoy most about your management consulting work?
The best part of management consulting is that you move between projects rather quickly. What if you only took one class for every period in school for every day? What if you only studied history all the time. Never changing that class would be kind of boring, right? Well, with management consulting, you change your job a lot, so it's like frequently changing what you are studying.
Some people stay in the same job for their whole lives! The longest I've ever worked on the same project is one year. Typically, projects run only a few months. I really enjoy that change in scenery. Of course, that has its downsides, too. As you can imagine, the longer you work in a situation, the more comfortable it becomes. When you continually change settings, you feel lost at the beginning. The first few days of the project are frightening. You don't know any of the people you're working with. You usually don't know the industry you're working in. You don't know exactly what you are supposed to do in the project. A good consultant, though, has to figure it out really quickly. In a matter of hours, I'm expected to know the industry I'm dealing with, assess who I'm working with (like who is smart, who is helpful, what everybody wants to get out of the project), and even be able to do the little things, like work on their proprietary computer system and even send overnight packages.
Where do you work and what is a typical day like?
This is an excellent question that has no short answer. When I am working on a consulting project, my days completely vary. I may find myself working in New Jersey or New York or traveling to another state or country and living in a hotel. When I am not consulting I have time to work on my music and writing. Both schedules are busy!
[John's typical work day is very interesting. There is nothing typical about it! Please click here to read his complete answer to this question: "A day in the life of management consultant, musician and writer..."]
Do you have the opportunities to perform your music?
I perform my music in my living room every night! It's a great venue! Seriously, though, I had a location in the city that would allow me to perform. It was a cabaret room in the back of a restaurant. The audience ate dinner while I performed for an hour, singing songs and telling entertaining stories. The location has closed its doors, so I need to look for a new venue. Unfortunately, I find it hard to look for a venue when I am working on a project (I've been working on one since January), so I think it'll be a few months before I'm performing in public again. I'll have to settle for my living room!
If you were within the age parameters for American Idol, would you audition?
I would absolutely audition, and I think I'd have a good chance of winning it! Maybe it's because I'm more mature now, but it seems like song choice is the most important thing about that show, and the contestants pick the wrong ones a lot.
So, if I was 3 years younger, I'd apply to be on the show. For sure. But I can't, and I'm going to have to look elsewhere to find the fame and fortune I want to find as a musician and songwriter. What I'm focusing on now is putting up new and fun music on my website, www.johndeguzman.com. I’m hoping to build up a significant fan club there so that when I post a new song a mass of people are interested. Once I get that support base, I feel like more options will open up for me.
How difficult is it to find fame and fortune as a musician?
It is really, really, really, really hard to find fame and fortune as a musician, and that's why so many people want to get that instant exposure you get from American Idol. Without that exposure, reaching success is almost as hard as winning the lottery.
Technology is helping people get their music out there, though, like never before. I mean, I have a home recording studio! That wasn't even possible 10 years ago. I have the ability to instantly record my compositions, add drums and bass to it, and BANG, have it on the Internet for the world to download minutes later. To me, someone who remembers when we didn't have answering machines, that is mind-blowing.
I used to think it was important to be in NYC to make it as a musician, but I don't think so anymore. It's so competitive here, it works against you. Also, most places won't even talk to you, much less allow you to perform in their space. Even though they have a piano in the corner, you aren't allowed to play it! It's very frustrating. I would do it differently now. I'd go to a smaller city like Portland, OR or Atlanta, GA and become popular there. In other words, I think it's smarter to be a big fish in a little pond rather than a little fish in a big pond.
Es muy difícil encontrar éxito como músico.
Do you have any "words of wisdom" for the young students reading this interview?
My advice is to work hard. Work hard. Work hard. No matter what you do, take it seriously and give it your all. Consider this: take your most amazing dream, whether it is to own a company or to be an actor or actress. Imagine how many other people have that same dream! If you want to be a designer, imagine how many other people want to be designers! The reality is that there are only so many designers in the world, right? Who do you think will be hired as a designer, then, when they get older? Odds are that it will be the person who worked harder for it. Don't you think? Be prepared and work hard!
What advice do you have for those who wish to pursue a career in the entertainment field?
I touched on this in the previous questions, so I'll just quote myself. "Work hard. Work hard." And sometimes, "It might be better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond."
Vous devez travailler dur !
What do you like best about living in the New York City area?
I never thought I'd live in the United States. Again, I was born and raised in Spain, and I thought I'd get out of college and head back to Europe. But, I came down to New York City for a weekend, and I fell in love with the city. It's not really an "American" city, because so many different companies and people live here. Also, all kinds of work is done in New York: the United Nations is here, so you have lots of diplomats and consulates here. NYC has lots of theater, art galleries and live music, so there is a lot going on in the arts. Every big company in the world wants to have an office here, so we have lots of businesses. It truly is a city of the world. I just love it. It's impossible to imagine how much is actually going on in the city, and that creates an energy I'm really drawn to. I can walk the city streets for hours and hours, finding new stores and absorbing the buzz the city gives out. I find New Yorkers to be passionate, compassionate, interesting and intelligent. If I leave the city, I miss it right away.
Is there any truth to the rumor that "it's a small world"?
My family has so many stories of running into people on the street, we should write a book. My dad travels the world for business, and people have recognized him in Hotels in San Paolo, Brazil and in meetings in Japan. I've run into lots of people myself, right on the streets of New York! Some of them are people I haven't seen since middle school! The most memorable ones are running into someone I hadn't seen in 10 years at Ikea in Elizabeth, NJ. Another time, I was reading for a casting agency looking to cast a Spanish-language play. I read from the script and the actors came in the room, one after another. Lo and behold, one of the actors who came in was someone I'd starred in Pippin with in high school. I hadn't seen him in fifteen years. It really is a small world.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
I do, but I can never remember them. Instead, I'll make one up. Here we go. My favorite quote is... um...
"Don't try to jump over the moon too many times. You might pull a muscle."
There you go. Just made it up myself!
Je suis sure que j'ai des citations favorites, mais je ne les rappelle pas.
Of all the people, past and present, who are your greatest sources of inspiration?
This is a really hard question, because I don't think I'm inspired by people. I thought about this question the most, and I can't come up with an answer. I think I am inspired by events or situations, but not by particular people. For example, I wrote a short story on my website (www.johndeguzman.com) called "Eating Fall." I wrote this because I was so inspired while driving up north and the leaves were changing colors. I was so inspired that I had to sit down at thee end of the trip and write that essay.
Yo encuentro esta pregunta muy difícil, porque yo no encuentro inspiración en personas, si no en situaciones particulares.
More thoughts on a Day in the Life of John de Guzman
[John has some great writing and fun music he'd like to share with you. You can download his songs and writings for free from his website http://www.johndeguzman.com/. He has one song and one essay that include some "adult" language, so he recommends "Parental Guidance". If you are younger than 13, please visit his site with a parent, teacher or other adult. I am sure they will be happy to be invited, they will probably enjoy his music and writing too!]
- 9 May 2007
9 May 2007
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