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Type 1 Times 2

Diabetes No Longer Just a Side Dish in My Life

Thriving in the Workplace: Real Stories From the Computing, Tech and Digital Industry

Disclaimer: The information provided is not intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your healthcare professional about your diabetes management. Individual symptoms, situations and circumstances may vary.

22/02/2022

A diabetes diagnosis doesn’t have to hold back your career ambitions. From launching Sky Glass to developing new technologies at IBM, and working as Chief Executive for Sage, we spoke to seven digital gurus about how they’ve successfully navigated the demands of the computing and technology industry while living with Type 1 diabetes.

Getting started in the industry – what has been your career journey to where you are today?

Knowing where to start with getting into your chosen field or pursuing your passion as a career can often be the hardest step. We spoke to our digital gurus about education, experience, and entry-level opportunities.

Tim has worked for some of the biggest names in computing and tech, including BT, Reuters, and IBM, delivering multi-million-pound projects as an IT Architect and Project Manager.

“I started off with an apprenticeship in telephony that included City & Guilds qualifications, and then joined British Telecom before going back to college to achieve a BTEC and higher BTEC qualification,” he says. “After progressing to a technical officer, I had the opportunity to move to Reuters, where I climbed to Global Product Support Manager. I was then headhunted to Energis and then moved to IBM, where I stayed until retirement.”

Inspired by computer games from the 80s, Lindsay worked her way up through coding and development to become a Principal Software Engineer, where she now manages global teams. She tells us:

“My interest in computer games started when I was 7 years old. In the 80s my brothers had a computer game where you typed in names of family members and it would give you a ridiculous phrase, like ‘Auntie Jane has got a big nose’. And I just thought, ‘this is what I want to do, I want to make computer programmes’. The internet was in the early stages then, so I was advised at school not to put all my eggs in one basket – but I was so passionate about computers and tech that I went all in. I achieved a degree in software engineering and moved through coding and development to where I am now.”

Working in global operations can mean a lot of international travel. How do you manage your diabetes with travelling and living in different countries?

Neil originally trained as a chemist but travelled the world consulting for an oil company and is now Technical Director at a global business.

“When I was working at a big consultancy for oil, I spent a month working in Lagos, and 6 weeks in Jakarta,” he recalls. “That was a real hoot, but very demanding because of the time difference. Because it was a 12-hour evening flight, I would inject before the flight and then monitor my glucose levels.” Neil adds that it’s important to think logically about the time zone difference, but not to be scared about it. To cope with this, he gradually extends the period between his long-acting insulin injections until it’s close to the local time zone, usually over 2 -3 days.

He also talks enthusiastically about eating different types of food when travelling for work: “I became a favourite with the Jakartans at the first lunchtime, because I wanted to try all the local food. You have to immerse yourself in the way the locals work and adapt your regime to go with that.”

Lindsay says: “You have to think ahead, especially when travelling, and it’s particularly important in countries where you don’t speak the language and don’t know if they have the same medication etc. People need to be aware of your diabetes to support you.” She goes on to say that although it’s unusual in India to have a fridge in your room, it’s something she always requests in order to keep her insulin out of the 40-degree heat.

Stephen has been Chief Operating Officer of the UK Government and then Chief Executive at Sage, previously working in New York, California, and London. He says:

“My life was crazy, it was extreme when I look back. When I was chief exec in California, I was doing a couple of return transatlantic flights each month. Mondays could be as crazy as jumping on plane at Heathrow at 11am, landing in California at 1pm and continuing a West Coast time working day. A golden rule in life is always learn from the past and be in the present. It’s the same with jet leg – I’ve learnt to manage it through exercise, which gets my metabolic rate going and stops me feeling tired, and being in the moment of the time zone where you land.”

During a typical workday, how do you manage your diabetes?

Sally has worked as a Business Analyst in various companies and sectors, and is now Lead Analyst for the MySky app. She says:

“The key for me is doing my best to keep my glucose levels steady and at a healthy level during the workday. I find having a consistent breakfast – same food and same insulin – and allowing time for the insulin to kick in before I eat helps with that on a morning. I’m quite fortunate not to get too strong symptoms, so going a bit low or high doesn’t impact me too much at work. But on the occasions where it does, I find it’s all about communicating with people and taking time out if need be – I’ll ask people to rearrange meetings or go ahead without me. I find that if you’re transparent, people are usually very accommodating.”

Paul says: “If I have a big meeting or the CEO will be on a call, I’ll get a spike of adrenaline, so I scan my FreeStyle Libre sensor an hour or so before. Most of the time I end up with quite a steady slope from my slow insulin, which allows me to predict my glucose level with good reliability. I’m in-zone a lot of the time, but whenever it’s coming down, I’ll have a biscuit or something.”

Stephen advises: “It’s important to communicate to those around you what the warning signs are, as many people have no experience of diabetes. I’ll say, ‘if I start behaving erratically, or start sweating etc., press the emergency button and get some sugar to me’.”

He continues: “If I’m on stage presenting to 15,000 people in Chicago, with another 40,000 on live stream, I need my blood sugars to be rock solid. The horror movie is blood sugars plummeting, you go on, start feeling faint and have all the symptoms of a hypo.”

Has diabetes affected your career?

Tim tells us: “When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, I had been unwell for quite some time, but it took a long time before I was diagnosed, so that wasn’t a great time in my career. The company were looking to cut their costs and I guess I was an easy target at that point because I’d been off for quite a time. Eventually I joined IBM and the rest is history. In terms of recovering from that, it was me facing up to the reality of the situation, getting on with it and doing lots and lots of job applications and interviews.”

Elizabeth stepped into product innovation from marketing – in her role as a 5G Product Manager, she utilises 5G capabilities to revolutionise the way businesses work. She says:

“I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve managed it very closely. The only time it was more challenging was through my two pregnancies. The care was more intense, I was having to go to the hospital every other week, so that was disruptive. I was fortunate to have a company and manager who were very supportive.”

Stephen adds: “I was diagnosed when I was 40, and it did change my life. It made me realise that I had a high-pressured career and needed to develop coping mechanisms to do it. Diabetes hasn’t changed my career path, but it has made me more sensitive to my own physical and mental wellbeing, and making people around me aware that I live with diabetes.”

What types of snacks do you have at work to manage hypos and keep your glucose level stable?

 “I typically try to have a lower carb lunch, to avoid a lethargic post-lunch spike,” says Elizabeth. “If I’m hungry, I’ll eat nuts because they’re low carb, or I’ll take some fruit – and there might be an odd Wispa bar that creeps into my hand.”

Tim explains that his go-to fast-acting snacks for hypos are wine gums and jelly babies. “I would also have other snacks like cereal bars, for substantial longer-acting carbs, which are particularly handy when driving, in case of traffic jams.”

Sally says: “A carton of fruit juice or Lucozade Sport – I like having liquids because I can take them into meetings, and it’s not a distraction... And I like marshmallows – they feel like a bit of a treat but still work well.”

What is your advice for other people with diabetes who may be looking for a career in computing, tech or digital?

“Don’t let it hold you back! Quite an important thing I’ve realised is that there are a lot of things that people are contending with,” explains Sally. “It can feel like you’re going into an office full of healthy people and you’re the only one who has something extra or hidden to deal with – but it’s actually the opposite. People with diabetes should appreciate the additional skills they have. We are able to operate at the same level, and potentially even better, than people without diabetes. Diabetes forces us to be organised, and able to multitask so we can manage the condition whilst living and working with it – and those are valuable transferable skills.”

Neil adds: “I don’t see diabetes as a block to anything. My eldest lives with diabetes and I’ve brought him up with the same understanding that I have. He’s seen that it’s not been a restriction to me getting on in my job, or doing other things outside my job. It’s hard, but you just have to be confident and control yourself well.”

Paul suggests: “Find a regime that works for you, your body and probably most importantly, your mind, so you have an overall feeling of wellbeing. That way it can be something in the background of your life, not the foreground, and you can be free to put your energy into other things.”

Thanks to Tim, Lindsay, Paul, Neil, Stephen, Sally and Elizabeth for sharing their experiences and insight into their professional challenges and achievements while managing diabetes. Their stories are an inspiration to us all, and proof that diabetes doesn’t have to hold you back from career success.

 

ADC-62088 v1.0 09/2022

 

Type 1 Times 2

Diabetes No Longer Just a Side Dish in My Life