“Black Spring” by Henry Miller is one of my favorites and I love Anaïs Nin.
Rachel Maddow, Freakonomics, On Being and the BBC
Bis on Main in Bellevue and The Walrus and the Carpenter in Ballard
What was it like growing up in Spain?
I grew up with three sisters and my mom and dad in a very nice, tight-knit community. My mom made sure we had access to the best education. She wanted us to have what she didn’t have access to as a woman, so she made it a point to provide that for us. We were always taught to travel, and that planted a seed in me. I moved to Scotland for my first master’s degree and met my first husband there. He was from Seattle, which is how I ended up here in 1999.
Had you dreamed of living in the United States?
I never thought about moving to the U.S., actually. I’d always loved travel, but I hadn’t imagined living in any place other than Spain. The first couple months were hard because I knew I wasn’t here as a tourist anymore; I was here to stay. I was still working on my thesis, I didn’t know anyone and it was very far away from Spain.
Paola with her sisters in Rome, Italy.
How did the way you grew up shape who you are?
Mostly it has allowed me to be able to adapt. My undergraduate degree was in language, literature and history, and I have master’s degrees in interpretation and translation. That education became a set of tools to allow me to do anything I wanted to do and to adjust to whatever the next thing was. If you look at my career trajectory, I have done many different things. I was doing project management, then I was a marketing manager and then a staffing director. I can apply the same set of tools to anything – particularly in operations. I’m good at putting things together, sort of like an engineer of people.
With the educational background you have, how did you end up at Blueprint?
I really wanted to get deeper into operations and transition my career. I was looking for women with big accomplishments whom I could learn from. I somehow ran across Danielle Funston (Executive Vice President at Blueprint). I reached out to her through a recruiter we both knew, he introduced us and we sat down for coffee one day. I enjoyed talking about what she had achieved and what I had accomplished and then one day she told me she had an opening to manage one of their engagements. I wasn’t concerned about jumping into the tech world, I was excited to use the skills I had while also learning as I went. I had good organizational skills and the team needed that.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned that you apply to the work you do now?
I would say it is to always stay curious and stay open. I always ask why. I do it all the time. I enjoy asking questions because when you ask questions, you learn. I learned that if I was curious, if I saw a problem or a challenge, and I was curious about finding out why, I could usually figure it out. Maybe I was lucky. In a previous position, I was curious to see if I could make things work better, so I read a bunch, I consulted and asked if I could take a stab at running a team, a department or a division. I was perhaps lucky to be given the opportunity, but I was willing to volunteer to try. I believe in staying curious, being humble and being able to learn and adapt and putting yourself out there.
What did it take to go after something like that?
Realizing that I was strong and that I had certain skills. When you push yourself beyond what you think are your limits, you realize you have strengths you didn’t know were there, and I did that. I did that several times in my life. At some point, I discovered I was stronger than I thought I was, it is as simple as that. As an example, I challenged myself a lot when I was doing interpretation. I had to be out in the open, speaking in public and recording myself. I was a very shy, quiet woman interested in literature and history. And I did it.
Paola with her partner and son after completing a race in Seattle, WA.
What do you do outside of work?
We like to travel quite a bit. We go to Spain every year, except for this year, and Spain is always my favorite, but we also travel around the U.S. and Europe. Other than that, I like fitness, reading and dining out.
Who would you invite to your ideal dinner party?
I would want all of my sisters there and it would be great to have Anaïs Nin and Virginia Woolf there. I would love to gather a table of strong women.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I may look and act serious, but I really enjoy joking. I have, I hope, a great sense of humor.