Running in to Extinguish the Fire

Fight-or-flight. It’s our response when reacting to events that may threaten our survival. For most of us, the thought of charging into a burning building would trigger our flight response. Matthew Held however, embraces that defiance on a regular basis. “Why would you run into the burning building everyone is running out of? Are you crazy?!” he says. “When everybody says ‘No,’ I say, ‘Why not?’”

Helping people has always come effortlessly to Matthew – it’s a quality that is embedded into his DNA. For years he had been a volunteer at the local animal shelter and a mentor to children from dysfunctional households. This pursuit of purposeful passions is what also led him to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a volunteer firefighter and first responder more than six years ago. Although demanding, he values firefighting as a personal challenge because at the end of the day, he is fully committed to doing his part for the community: “I've always been a person that believes in giving back.”

It’s only fitting that Matthew’s attitude is a perfect match for his work at Novo Nordisk. As an Applications Developer with more than a decade of experience, Matthew bridges the gap between internal and external programs for the company, streamlining systems and processes for the people he works with and making their lives easier through his efforts. “Technology is about making people more efficient with the same amount of energy exerted,” he says. “I really enjoy what I do because my role in IT allows me to be at the leading edge of technology.”

Diabetes as an important part of life

Working at Novo Nordisk has also given Matthew an opportunity to work on a cause that hits close to home. To him, diabetes is more than just a disease – it’s a important part of his life. His grandfather passed away from diabetes. His uncle, too. Both his mother and sister are living with type 2 diabetes. For Matthew, this gives him a bond – not only to Novo Nordisk – but to the community of people working around him. “The majority of people that work at Novo Nordisk have a personal relationship with diabetes,” says Matthew. “I’m not the only one who has seen a loved one suffer because of diabetes.”

This personal experience with diabetes has helped Matthew appreciate the way Novo Nordisk both inspires its employees and focuses on improving the lives of people living with diabetes. “It’s a company that tries to make people’s lives healthier and more enjoyable,” he says. “These little things go a long way. That's life.”

An understated hero

There is an enthusiasm when Matthew recounts his stories. A warmth that exudes pure excitement when recalling some of his most memorable experiences: That time a propane tank exploded when he was still inside a blazing building. When a colleague recognised him alongside the fire trucks at the local library. Or when a woman he just saved offered him empanadas that had been salvaged after the rescue. “Extra crispy empanadas,” he laughs. “They were quite good!”

He glosses over the less glamorous parts of his firefighting memories – minor burns and fracturing his spine, which he blames “on my own stupidity.” Through all of this, you get a sense of his kindness and humbleness when he recalls his own actions. For him, the focus should not be on all that he has done for the community, but rather on the people whose lives have been turned upside down. He likes to put things in perspective by pointing out that “my best day is still somebody else’s worst day.” Because for Matthew, what matters most is making a difference in the lives of people in need.

Connecting the personal and the professional

Matthew’s work is also a place where he can step away from the exhaustion and emotions that come with firefighting. “Sometimes, something really bad happens while firefighting and then I come to the office and I have my cooling down time,” he says. He values the support that comes from both the personal and professional sides of his life and he appreciates the multiple opportunities to excel: “I don't punch a clock, I work on teams with fair project deadlines and the flexibility is great.”

For Matthew, his personal and professional passions are two halves of the same coin. “If an application is down, I’m going to put out a fire,” he says. “If the building is burning, that’s also a fire I’m going to put out. They’re all fires.” Ultimately, they’re bound by the same approach he takes personally and professionally. Regardless of where the problem comes from, he treats each challenge consistently. “What are my facts and what are my unknowns? Everything is about strategy and how we solve those encounters is what defines people,” he says.

This parallel that is highlighted not only by Matthew but also by the colleagues around him. “They all think it's great. Some get a little giggly. My coworkers often ask me, ‘Are you going to put out a fire?’ And I ask them, ‘Do you mean the literal one or the figurative one?’”

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