Tech Executive Kate Maxwell Tells Students to ‘Launch Before You Are Ready’

Friday, March 15, 2024
Kate Maxwell speaks at Rose-Hulman.

Kate Maxwell, one of the Top 100 Women in Tech, was the inaugural speaker in the new Swearingen Leadership Series. Her presentation came on International Women’s Day and was part of the campus’ Women’s History Month celebration.

The inaugural event in the new Swearingen Leadership Series had highly decorated STEM education advocate Kate Maxwell providing Rose-Hulman students with a variety of inspiration messages to follow in her footsteps as a technology leader.

Speaking on International Women’s Day, Maxwell’s “Launch Before You Are Ready” presentation featured such themes as:

  • Embrace failure.
  • Aim for progress, not perfection.
  • Invention takes courage.
  • Things are attainable if you stretch and reach for them. 

“We teach our girls to be perfect and we teach our boys to be brave,” said Maxwell, highlighting a statement by Girls Who Code Founder/Chief Executive Officer Reshma Saujani. “Let’s stop teaching our girls to be perfect and, instead, let’s teach our children to be brave … The pursuit of ‘perfect’ holds us back from a wild and wonderful, scary and brilliant, and big kind of life.” 

Later, she stated, “‘Perfect’ keeps us small. It taps us on the shoulder, and it tells us we're not enough. It prevents us from taking risks and trying new things. I’m done chasing perfect and you all should be too … Lean into your own courage, find that place of self-validation and launch before you're ready. Enter courses that stretch you. Enter stretch assignments in your career. And enter a new hobby or skill into a bigger life. Perfectionism won't get you there, but your bravery will.”

Maxwell’s lessons come from 20 years of experience in software and systems engineering while working in the STEM sector across the globe. She currently leads technology and industry strategy as general manager for worldwide education with Microsoft, one of the largest tech companies in the world. Maxwell previously served as chief technology officer for Microsoft’s worldwide defense and intelligence division

Prior to that, Maxwell held various defense industrial base leadership positions within RTX (formerly Raytheon), including being technical director of the navigation and modernization solutions product line. She was also chief engineer of the company’s product support business and director of the Raytheon Innovation Center.

This career journey has been filled with failures, some of them Maxwell classified as “epic” in nature, but all were worthy life-building experiences.

“Those battle scars ultimately shaped me into the person and the leader that I am today, and I am better for it. I know that for a fact,” said Maxwell while speaking on the Hatfield Hall Theater stage. “Those failures teach us how to be better leaders. They teach us how to navigate change. and perhaps the most important lesson of all, they teach us resiliency. When we walk through those hard periods, we learn that we are fireproof, and that we can survive anything. And oftentimes, again, we come out better for it. I will tell you candidly, who I am today is the result of me walking throughout those hard moments and just sticking with it.”

Maxwell topped Technology Magazine’s list of the “Top 100 Women in Tech” in 2023, and was one of “100 Women in Tech Leaders to Watch” by WomenTech in 2022 and 2023. She was honored as the Indianapolis Business Journal’s Tech Executive of the Year in 2022, was a Forty Under 40 award recipient in 2021, and one of the paper’s Woman of Influence award winners in 2019. She also is a two-time award winner of the Society of Women Engineers and speaks to groups of current and future women engineers at events throughout the nation.

Rose-Hulman’s Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) program brought Maxwell to campus to help empower students to become leaders during their time on campus and in their professional and personal lives by providing opportunities in skill development, co-curricular learning, self-reflection, and intentional engagement.


Swearingens Support Student Leadership Development
John Swearingen, a 1981 chemical engineering alumnus, and his wife, Anne, supported establishment of the Swearingen Leadership Series to encourage development of future leaders in science, engineering, and mathematics to solve complex problems. Several guest speakers will be featured in campus programs, like the recent speech by Kate Maxwell, each school year.

The Swearingens helped establish the Department of Chemical Engineering’s first endowed faculty professorship, have contributed to laboratory and technology enhancements, and helped fund student scholarships.

The Leadership Education and Development program is planning to bring author/entrepreneur Hank Green to campus later this spring.