South Intern Picks Web Development Job
Posted on August 8, 2023
#MyFirstJob is a series focused on recent graduates of the University of South Alabama.
Diego Salas Polar began his computer career as a 7th-grader enrolled in Cyber Camp at the University of South Alabama.
He’d always made good grades in math and science, but didn’t know much about computers. In one summer, all that changed. He began coding his future.
“This was like my introduction to programming,” said Salas Polar. “Like a kickstart to get me interested in studying computer science.”
At Davidson High School in Mobile, he participated in a robot-building program that has won state and regional championships. At home, he paid for online classes that taught him basic programming languages.
Salas Polar studied computer science at South and earned a bachelor’s degree with a minor in mathematics. During his junior and senior years, he worked as an intern for USA Health, the region’s academic health system.
After graduation this spring, he accepted a full-time job in web development at USA Health. Salas Polar works on many of the same systems he did as an intern. In the office, in the USA Technology & Research Park on the north side of campus, he moved from one row of cubicles to another one.
“It’s not far,” he joked, pointing at his old desk. “Honestly, it still feels like I’m school. I was an intern here for two years.”
While working full time, Salas Polar plans to attend graduate school at South. He gets a break on tuition as a USA Health employee. In the fall, he’ll begin studying for a master’s degree in computer science in the School of Computing.
One of his main responsibilities at USA Health is developing and maintaining a parking management system.
“It was a pain in the beginning, but that’s how I got this job, doing that application,” he said. “It was a big project for me. I’d never done anything like that before.”
Louis Wright, director of technology and IT infrastructure, is happy to have Salas Polar begin his career with USA Health.
“He’s been a great asset to the team,” said Wright. “He went above and beyond what you’d expect from an intern. More like what you’d get from a full-time employee.”
From Office Khakis to Grunge Guitar
Salas Polar tends to be quiet, even shy, but he has an alter ego as a grunge guitarist who plays for fun with a local band. The group has a few original tunes to go along with a repertoire of Green Day and Blink 182 cover songs.
In workplace khakis and a button-down shirt, Salas Polar doesn’t look much like an alternative rocker.
“I get that a lot,” he said, laughing. “I like to try new things, so I taught myself to play the guitar. It helps keep my mind occupied in a different way. And I like the energy, the punk vibe.”
A few years ago, Salas Polar started putting up fliers for band mates at the Guitar Center store in Mobile. He met a lot of musicians. Not many are web developers.
“Our bass player is from Fairhope; he works at the zoo in Gulf Shores,” he said. “The drummer is a waiter at Bonefish Grill. The singer is a construction worker.”
After starting work at USA Health, Salas Polar knew just what he wanted to do with his first paycheck. He went out and bought a signature Gibson guitar with a sunburst finish.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said, beaming. “And it sounds great. A classic rock-and-roll sound.”
From the Mountains of Peru to the Gulf Coast
Salas Polar’s parents came to the United States from Peru when he was four years old. His father is a welder. His mother is a housecleaner.
“I’m the first member of my family to go to college,” he said. “It’s a big thing.”
His family is from Arequipa, a mountain city more than 7,000 feet above sea level. After moving to the U.S., and living at sea level, he enjoyed one of his first impressions of America.
“You could breathe more easily here,” he said. “In Peru, the air was very thin.”
Along the Gulf Coast, Salas Polar enjoys some of the same seafood, especially ceviche, that he ate as a boy.
During his first two years at South, he worked part-time as a skycap at Mobile Regional Airport. He enjoyed talking to people while loading and unloading their bags. His best tip?
“Fifty bucks,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
Working full-time in the Technology & Research Park, he usually brings his own lunch. Sometimes a group of people will go out to a Vietnamese restaurant for a hearty bowl of pho.
Salas Polar enjoys the quiet of the USA Health office. He works on a development team of five programmers. He’s comfortable doing his own work in own cubicle.
The key for him is breaking down big assignments into smaller tasks.
“Just meeting deadlines,” he said. “That’s how projects get done. And I don’t like to be late.”
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