Salim Zayat ’97 embodies every kid’s childhood dream of becoming a real Game Boy. He is senior programmer at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where he develops online games to therapeutically help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
“People with ASD have difficulties in face recognition, both recognizing individual identities and their emotions,” Zayat says. “The games we create use face matching as a key game mechanic,” he explains, “making the experience both fun and helpful.” He also works as a web developer.
Even as a Gilmour student Salim, or “Zimo” as he was known across campus, was interested in art and communication. He confesses that the best gift he received from Gilmour was the ability to write. He wrote so many papers that “the five-paragraph structure became second nature,” he says. “You wean yourself from such crutches as passive voice and ambiguous references, thus leaving your intentions and ideas clearer. You are able to quickly organize your thoughts and express them well, which are skills that can be used anywhere in life, whether it be in application essays for grad school or in your daily conversations.”
It would be hard to imagine what Zayat would have done with his life if computers had not been invented. Technology has played such a key role for him. Still he remembers advice from Gilmour teacher and coach Vern Weber who told students, “Get a liberal arts degree. It makes you a well-rounded person.”
After graduating as salutatorian from Gilmour, Zayat earned a Bachelor of Applied Science from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in entertainment technology from Carnegie Mellon University. In graduate school, he was a tools developer at Vanguard Animation in London. Zayat worked as a software intern at Pixar before becoming a software engineer at Shaba Games. “I spent almost four years there working on a variety of video games including “Spiderman: Web of Shadows” and “Shrek the Third,” he says.
Last year, Zayat married Bridget Hill, an attorney he met at the University of Pennsylvania. Classmate Oliver D’Silva was a groomsman along with Phil Prusa ’98. The couple lives in Haddonfield, N.J., and has a new son, Colin Bruce Zayat, who was born June 21.
The Gilmour graduate believes that “one should do what he or she loves,” adding that, “I look forward to work every day and I am sad when I punch out at night.”