When you’re working as an engineer at a startup in Silicon Valley, it can be tough to think of anything besides work.
But Cindy Chu, a senior software engineer at online shopping company Polyvore, juggles managing a seven-person team with an even more strenuous activity — she weight-lifts five days a week and hopes to enter amateur weightlifting competitions soon.
“It’s one of the exercises that just stuck with me,” Chu told Business Insider. “I think it’s like people who do races in that it’s a lot of adrenaline.”
Chu previously worked as a technical lead at Yahoo, where she got to make use of a cushy corporate gym. But five years ago, when she left Yahoo to manage Polyvore’s web and consumer services team, she was forced to explore other options.
Each Polyvore employee gets a monthly wellness stipend, so Chu decided to use hers to sign up for a gym near her home in Mountain View.
The gym she chose was Prometheus Athletics, a facility that’s popular among Silicon Valley engineers and scientists. The gym is so popular with the tech crowd, in fact, that it offers a “nerd discount” for people in the industry.
“It’s a really supportive community there,” Chu said. “It’s really a place for people who want to pursue both intellectual and physical activities.”
At Prometheus, Chu has learned the two types of Olympic weightlifting: the “snatch” and the “clean and jerk.” They’re both extremely difficult techniques that take a lot of flexibility, speed, and power to master.
But now she’s hooked — she reserves two hours in the morning, five mornings a week, so that she can get her exercise in before heading in to the office.
“It’s how much I needed to go to feel like I was training enough,” she said. “I block off time on my calendar because the work tends to grow around the time if I don’t. That’s kind of how it is in the Valley.”
Polyvore is fairly active as a whole. The company plans plenty of activities both in and out of the office, including an annual beach party and a company-wide competition they call the Poly Olympics. The monthly wellness stipend also encourages employees to exercise.
And while weightlifting may be an unconventional hobby, especially among women, Polyvore is an unconventional tech company. A full 59% of Polyvore employees are female, including cofounder and CEO Jess Lee. In Chu’s department specifically, 26% of engineers are women.
“Polyvore is a meritocracy — you’re all treated fairly regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, and regardless of your age or race,” Chu said. “The new trend in Silicon Valley is that companies are releasing their diversity figures. I think that’s a good step to starting the conversation.”
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