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Google engineering leader to discuss the value of a liberal arts education

Dr. Katharina Probst, C'00

Dr. Katharina Probst, C’00, a senior engineer manager at Google will be the Babson Center’s Graham Executive-in-Residence for the Easter semester. She will share her journey from computer science major at Sewanee to leadership positions in Netflix and Google.

Probst will deliver a presentation, “Sewanee to Silicon Valley: Lessons in Leadership and Change,” at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18, in the Torian Room of duPont Library. All are welcome.

One of the first women to graduate with a computer science major from Sewanee, Probst was a visionary in her field when the program was in its infancy. She attended programming competitions and received grants for women in computing. Dr. Linda Lankewicz remembers Probst being a part of a “talented group of students who energized us with their enthusiasm” and “did far more than the normal load for a course.” For a CREW (Collaborative Research Experience for Women) grant, Lankewicz recalls, “The three of us worked many hours on a project involving the use of neural networks for data mining.”

Probst continued her pursuit of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, receiving a Ph.D. in 2005. She began her career at Google in Atlanta as a software engineer, developing new features in Gmail and “having a lot of fun and learning a lot.” Seven years later, she relocated to San Francisco and was an Engineer Manager responsible for Google Cloud Platform and Google Compute Engine.  

As her career soared, Probst realized that she wanted to move into a leadership position and manage teams, merging her two passions: leadership and technology, her “sweet spot.” Using her interpersonal skills (soft skills) that she learned at Sewanee, Probst said that she could make a positive impact by bringing people together. Harkening back to her  psychology classes at Sewanee, Probst said, “I do have a lot of interest in that, and I do think back to that a lot. People at my company have technical depth, which is great, but they have not focused so much on psychology and that is what a lot of this is really about, because my job is about people as much as it is about tech.”

Netflix, Inc., an online streaming, media-services provider with 139 million paid users world-wide, took notice of Probst talent. As Director of Engineering, she navigated the engineering cultures of  bottom-up innovation that prevails at Netflix and Google - teams creating ideas and initiatives. By inspiring and motivating team members at every level to act like leaders, Probst realized that teams could have a transformative impact on their organizations.

Probst returned to Google last October as an Engineering Leader for Google Kubernetes Engine. She has used her leadership skills to smash the glass ceiling for women at Google and in the technology field. Google’s 2017 diversity data for their global workforce revealed that 31% of all employees were women, 20% were technology workers, and 25% held a leadership role.

At Sewanee, Dr. Probst will share her insights with students and classes on how her liberal arts education provided the foundation to chart a successful career at Netflix and Google. This visit is cosponsored by the Babson Center for Global Commerce, Women’s and Gender Studies, and the Department of Computer Science.

The Graham Executive-in-Residence program is made possible by a generous gift from Diane and Henry H. Graham Jr.