The Gardening, Accordion-Playing Tech Consultant

John Buczkowski, who hails from St. Catharines, Ont., came to Boston’s Northeastern University on a rowing scholarship. After he received both bachelors and master’s degrees in Computer Science he stuck around, eventually landing in South Boston and working for, among others, Lotus. Over the past few years, he’s built a successful consulting company with plenty of repeat business.

John Buczakowski AccordianWhat makes him a true geek? Aside from his computer fluency, he’s also a passionate gardener and avid accordion player. He’s played professionally, and it was nearly his career choice. And while the fresh veggies may tilt him in our direction, we can’t ignore the elemental power of the accordion. We got John to put down his gardening tools and sheet music long enough to answer a few questions.

What’s your career trajectory been like?

I don’t really claim to be an expert in anything in particular. I’ve got 20-plus years of experience on the Microsoft technology stack, dating back to pre-Windows/DOS days. I’ve done everything from assembly language to C, C++ and C#. I’ve done JavaScript, HTML5, jquery and some Java. I’ve done a lot of desktop (fat) applications and a bunch of Web apps as well.

I’ve been in MYSQL, MS-SQL, Oracle, Access and more recently Cassandra. I’ve been in the back end, middle tier, front end UI and everything in between. I’m not a technologist. A lot of times, you find ads for people looking for an MVC-ASP .NET software developer, and they are looking for someone who knows every buzzword associated with that technology, but that’s not me.

I’ve got a broad understanding of a variety of technologies. As a consultant, you look at the customer’s requirements and needs and use the most suitable technology to answer those needs. If I don’t know the technology, I learn it. The real goal is to address your client’s needs. It’s fun going in because in addition to coming up to speed on the client’s architecture, I also have to come up to speed on their particular sandbox (finance, medical, energy and so on).

You’re an enthusiastic gardener and expert grower of vegetables. What sparked your interest?

I love to cook. I love to eat. I’m a nurturer by nature. It seemed to be a natural progression.
I’ve got farming in my blood, too. Both my parents’ families came from farming. Once my grandparents moved to the city, they all continued with extensive backyard gardens. My grandfather spliced pear branches into an apple tree, so he had a tree that produced both pears and apples (I’m not kidding).

I call myself a “pot” gardener. My in-the-city yard gets minimal sunshine, so I’ve got pots that I’ve placed in strategic locations around my place. I’ve got a three car driveway which I take over with pots during the growing season. I chase the sun as it moves around during the season, realigning and repositioning pots to get maximum sun exposure.

John's VeggiesI grow a lot of different varieties of tomatoes including Roma, Big Boy, Zebra, Black Krill, German Johnson, Beefsteak and Orange Wellington. I’ve got peppers too: Bells, Mexi-Bells, Jalapenos, Poblanos, Sweet and Hot Banana and Serrano. I’m also growing several varieties of basil, eggplant, lettuces, cucumbers, herbs and beans. Potatoes are on the menu too. Last year I bought all these designer potatoes and when it came time to harvest them, I had a quarter less than what I planted. This year I just bought a bag of russets, let them go to eye, cut them up and planted them.

Do you have any stories about gardening gone awry?

I’m the only person on the planet who cannot grow zucchini to save his life. I try new techniques every year but zucchinis need a lot of space and don’t do well in pots. Also, squirrels are an issue. I hate them. I once caught a squirrel stealing a tomato. I thought, “I’m going to get rid of THAT squirrel.” So I bought a Havaheart trap. Five years and almost 100 squirrels later, I still have a squirrel problem. I’m part of the squirrel relocation program. I usually like to release them down by the Charles River, right around Harvard. Especially by Harvard.

Now for the accordion. Why did you choose this particular instrument?

I started playing the accordion when I was seven. My sister and I each got to choose an instrument. Being older, she chose first and took the guitar. To keep the peace, I had to choose something else. I’m not sure how it really happened, but I think I got an accordion by default. It could have been part of our Polish heritage. My mom came from a family where they played a lot of music on the farm. All her siblings played and they’d always have folks over in the evenings to play music and drink hootch. My mom always had the radio on in our house too —  classical, Polish, traditional country, like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Charlie Pride, Charlie Rich, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and so on. I still really love the country stuff, which is why I guess I’m drawn to the Americana sound.

I outgrew my old accordion when I was 14 and my parents bought me a wonderful Guilietti. I think they paid like $1,500 for it. Back then, that was a lot of cash. About a year after they bought it, I stopped playing and they weren’t too pleased. I still have that accordion today as well as a bunch of others. I never take that one out to the clubs though. It’s way too valuable. Sometimes, I won’t pick it up for months but when I do I can’t describe it. It’s like butter.

While I didn’t play for a few years, I knew I wanted to get back into it when I saw my first rock show in Boston. It was the Gun Club at a place called Spit. I was hooked.

It sounds like you fell in love all over again.

I literally love music and love to play. I’m not a fantastic soloist, though I step up when the call arises. For me, it’s the conversation of music. I like being an accompanist, listening to the back and forth that’s going on and trying to add to it and enhance it. No one ever tells you this as you’re learning, but sometimes the most important notes are the ones you don’t play.

I taught myself guitar and started playing in some local bands in the 90s. We played in a bunch of places. During a period where I was between bands, I was reading the Phoenix (Boston’s now departed weekly) and saw an ad for an accordion player. I thought I’d just try that until the next guitar gig rolled along. That band ended up becoming Los Diablos and had some success on the Americana circuit. We recorded and released five CDs, got a bunch of college airplay and toured across the U.S. and in Ireland. While I was in that band, I learned some banjo and taught myself bass too, and I really got into Cajun and Zydecco music. I learned how to play button box (though quite modestly by Louisiana standards) and incorporated that into my portfolio.

Are you playing with anyone now?

Recently I’ve been playing with the Startenders. It’s a throw-together group that started out by backing The Solstice Circus, an aerial group that’s been performing in the Plough & Stars in Cambridge. The band is a collection of really, really good, accomplished players that I’ve had the privilege of playing with over the past year and a half. We don’t get together as often as I’d like to, but when we do it’s awesome. I’m currently looking for my next music project.

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