The Desk: What 1 VP of Product Management Keeps on Her Desk to Stay Inspired

Janey Zitomer
Written by Janey Zitomer
February 5, 2021Updated: February 19, 2021

Members of the tech community make us who we are, so we’re celebrating Built In users in an article series called #TheTechLife. Meet one incredible tech pro here.

You can tell a lot about a leader by the items they keep on their desk. Applied Systems’ Sarah Ratcliffe surrounds herself with objects that remind her of her guiding principles, her own humanity and the larger purpose of her work, reinforcing the reason she’s at her desk in the first place. 

And then there are items that encourage her to have fun and take an occasional dance break around the office.

 

Built In
Built In

 

1. Sticky Notes: Ratcliffe keeps sticky notes with messages like “create equity” on her desk to remind herself of her guiding principles, including the importance of diversity and inclusion. “We should be focusing on whether everything we do progresses equity or delays it,” Ratcliffe said. 

 

2. A Photo of Herself as a Child: This is a newer addition that a close friend recommended. “For anyone who is a people manager, it’s really important to remember we are real people, with real dreams and desires, and with all sorts of experiences that brought us to this moment,” Ratcliffe said. 

The memento encourages her to bring her whole self to work and to support her employees as multidimensional people. 

  

3. Blue Light-Blocking Glasses: “With three LED screens and long days, these things have saved my eyeballs and reduced headaches,” Ratcliffe said. “Plus, with dark-rimmed glasses and some lipstick, you can pull off any client Zoom meeting.” 

 

4. “What Customers Want”: Using Outcome-Driven Innovation to Create Breakthrough Products and Services,” by Anthony Ulwick: Ulwick’s book, according to Ratcliffe, “can help anyone who wants to build products that have high adoption and a focus on customer success.”

 

5. A Playlist: Ratcliffe’s Apple Watch tells her when it’s time to stand up or move around. Instead of simply taking a lap around the house, she gets down to Yemi Alade, Anitta, BTS and Lady Gaga.  

“It’s one of the perks of working from home,” she said. “But don’t put it past me to dance around my office either — no shame!”

  

6. A French Press: “I started this year by bringing a cup of coffee to my desk, as one does,” Ratcliffe said. “But now I just bring the whole carafe. It’s much more efficient and there’s no question I'll be consuming the whole thing anyway.”

 

 

7. A Photo of Mont Blanc in Western Europe: “I love to travel and backpack,” Ratcliffe said. “I’m always working on my next trekking trip, some of which take a lot of planning and coordination. I keep those trips in mind while anchored to screens and emails so I can approach work with the same sense of adventure and curiosity that I bring to my treks. Everything is a journey if you make it one.”

 

8. Giant Jar of Super Balls: “I’m so amused with myself,” Ratcliffe said. “I wanted to make sure something was always in my sightline that made me laugh and reminded me to be creative and have fun. So, I put a couple pounds of super balls from a bulk store, as adults usually do, in a huge ball jar. It makes me laugh every time I see it.” 

Chicago startup guides

LOCAL GUIDE
Best Companies to Work for in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Coolest Offices in Chicago Tech
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Perks at Chicago Tech Companies
LOCAL GUIDE
Women in Chicago Tech