On any given day, Paige Pauli ‘00 is solving tomorrow’s problems. As a User Experience Designer at Amazon Web Services, she designs enterprise software with the goal of making highly technical applications accessible to all users. This means she’s typically asking questions, finding the answers, and then asking follow-up questions to clarify and refine her solutions.
“The inquiry-based learning from SCDS helps me tremendously in my day-to-day,” she says. “I ask questions nonstop.” As the only designer on her team, she wears multiple hats, defining how users traverse through the software, interviewing users on the usability of her designs, and assisting engineers to implement her designs in the code. Currently, she’s focusing on machine learning to help combat fraud. To ensure the complex software is accessible to all, she regularly speaks with users of varying technical abilities, works closely with product managers, and consults with software engineers to determine the best possible user experience.
At the start of each project, she first confronts the problem space: what are the parameters of the problem? “Maybe you’ve identified a really large problem with an incredibly complex solution,” she explains. “It’s tempting to try to solve everything at once, but it’s important to scope it down to something more bite-sized first.” In software, this bite-sized issue is called the minimum viable product, which she relates to larger life lessons: “Even if you want to solve all of the world’s problems, sometimes you need to start small and target your first problem.”
As a dedicated technology student and former instructor, Pauli celebrates the different mediums categorized under the larger umbrella of technology. “I think it’s really important to expose students to programming, but it’s also really important to introduce kids to design and front-end technology concepts. If you’re not teaching the breadth of what’s out there—including design—you’re missing out on a whole different type of kid who may otherwise be incredibly interested in technology, but not as excited by traditional programming classes.” And Pauli was one of those kids, who thrived on the fusion between art and tech. After SCDS, she went on to Seattle Academy of Art and Sciences (SAAS) for high school, then received a BA in Psychology and minor in Studio Art at Pitzer College, as well as a certificate in web design from the University of Washington. “Technology is about problem-identification and coming up with solutions to those problems. To do that, you need to have these other professions, like design, involved in the process.”
She has seen firsthand how instruction in design positively influences students. She returned to SAAS from 2013-2015 to create and guest-teach a new class called “Design and Technology,” which focused on user experience design and front-end development. She also was an instructor for Girl Develop It, an organization focused on technology and engineering education for women, where she taught intermediate and advanced HTML & CSS. She had her students ask as many questions as she does: What does good design mean? How does that apply to software? How does that apply to the world around me? The questions stuck. Some of her high school students at SAAS took the class multiple trimesters in a row, went on to study interaction design or engineering in college, and now work at well-known technology companies.
Though Pauli has an impressive resume in the tech industry, including nearly four years in Silicon Valley designing software for Palantir Technologies, she recognizes the value of a beginner’s mindset. When introduced to a brand new project, which carries brand new problems, she asks as many questions as possible before starting design work. This perspective also helps her empathize with the end users; even with complicated software, she says she “wants to make it as easy as checking your email, and delightful as any traditional, consumer-focused application.”
Reflecting on her technological roots at Seattle Country Day School, Pauli remembers her time in the tech lab with now Grades 4-5 Technology Teacher Lisa Lewis. Looking back, Pauli is surprised by how much she learned at that age: “I learned Photoshop, got my first email address, and made a vending machine out of Legos that spit out Jolly Ranchers. Even then, I was encouraged to think about programming and user experience.”
Pauli is especially grateful to have had a female role model problem-solving in the technology lab throughout her formative years. “Ms. Lewis was my computer teacher starting in kindergarten all the way through eighth grade. I don’t know if she knows how influential she was.”