Meet Stephen Aguilar, PLANOLY’s very own Quality Assurance Manager. Some would say he’s responsible for why PLANOLY’s product quality is so stellar — we’re some of those people (thanks, Stephen!). But his professional journey before joining PLANOLY reads like the plot from a new Netflix series. Stephen has *almost* done it all from donning the pristine uniform of a correctional officer, playing poker professionally, and even manning tech support at the iconic internet provider AOL. Yet throughout his diverse history of roles and industries, one common thread has remained present throughout: a work ethic with strong empathy, care, and attention for all.
We chatted with Stephen via Zoom, where he shared epic work stories filled with entertainment, awe, and life lessons. If you ever have the pleasure of meeting him, just know you’re in for the best free life advice you’ll ever hear. But for those who may never have the honor, we're sharing some of our favorite gems.
Be open to new experiences and ideas. What you learn can directly impact who you are now.
Whether you're changing careers or still deciding whether to join Clubhouse — trying new things is an inevitable facet of life essential to personal and professional growth, so don’t be afraid when the time comes. Stephen is a true testament to this. From playing poker and pool to working in a prison, his professional journey was anything but linear, yet integral to his success today.
“You know, the funny thing is if it's got a shady reputation associated with it, chances are, I'm really, really good at it.”
Stephen contributes his conflict resolution skills to his time as a correctional officer at a maximum-security prison.
“I got started in the prison system in my very early 20s. There I learned how to assess conflict and defuse high-pressure situations.”
If you’ve ever watched Orange Is the New Black or any prison-related show, you know that conflict can break out at any moment. Stephen was no stranger to this reality during his time at one of the most infamous prisons in the country – where he became astutely clued into the intricate world of prison culture and its many facets. During one memorable inmate altercation, he found himself going against protocol ultimately, to keep everyone safe.
“When you’re in the middle of a riot, or you have two factions going at each other, you have to think about the fastest, safest solution and not necessarily ‘what’s in the book’. It teaches you perspective on the fate of the issues that we deal with daily.”
Don’t let the idea of fear and failure stop you from reaching your full potential.
The fear of losing or failing is real, but Stephen doesn’t let that stop him.
“You don’t fail when you lose. You fail when you quit.”
Jumping back to his time as a correctional officer, he describes his first month on the job as “hell.” However, even when dealing with many individuals, all with unique personalities, he never gave up. After a year at the prison, he moved to tech support at AOL, applying the same communication techniques he learned while working with inmates to serving AOL customers.
“You face a lot of customer complaints and frustrations, but one of the things in prison I learned is people are mad for a reason. You just have to take the time to understand why to help find a solution. So, I always try not to take people’s concerns for granted.”
Even when working with difficult people, Stephen finds life lessons in it all.
Embrace everything that life throws at you.
Accountability made Stephen the type of warm-hearted person and empathetic leader he is today. After describing a time at AOL where he had to deal with a pessimistic and demanding boss, he realized not to take things too personally.
“Never take criticism seriously from someone you would never go to for advice.”
And it was another boss/mentor figure that gave him the push he needed to always own every situation he finds himself in – whether good or bad.
“He told me never to take part in the victim mentality just because life gets hard. I’ll never forget when I told him about a situation I was in, and I was like, ‘why me?’ and he said ‘why not you?’ That’s when I understood that every negative thing in my life was just a minor inconvenience and that I ultimately control my situation.”
What we admire most about Stephen – aside from his incredible storytelling skills – is the way he continues to reflect thoughtfully on past experiences, applying the sum of every lesson learned to how he approaches work today. He treats every individual with the same level of respect and validation. It’s no wonder why he’s the perfect fit for ensuring our products speak directly to our user needs.
Learn more about the rest of the PLANOLY team by checking out people features here.