For the Love of Tech
April 02, 2019
April 02, 2019
- ©2018 Steve Peixotto
There’s a joke that Scott Rocher tells people out west in California.
The joke: “How do you know when someone’s from Texas?”
The answer: “They tell you.”
It’s the kind of thing that only Texas expatriates would understand. Blithe and Scott Rocher are happy in California, but they are solidly still Texans—so Texan that they try to catch the Astros whenever they’re in town, so Texan that Scott recently tweeted about breakfast tacos, so Texan that they own a hunting rifle.
Blithe Rocher graduated from Southwestern in 2005. Scott graduated in 2004. They are married, they are raising a son named Beau with another one on the way, and they have a dog named Nola. They live in Alameda, California, “an island in the Bay Area,” Blithe said, specifying that it was a physical rather than a metaphorical island. They’re both different species of tech people. They like baseball. They like to bicycle. They like to cook together, eat food, and go to the Oakland Museum on Friday nights when there are food trucks, beer, and wine and they can hang out in the blue dusk under the fairy lights and listen to live music.
Blithe grew up in the beachy part of South Texas, in a small, touristy town that calls itself the “charm of the Texas coast.” Her high school had a graduating class of around 45 students. To go to college, she collected enough scholarships to essentially have a full ride. Her backup plan was the military.
Scott was from the Houston neighborhood of Meyerland. He went to a private school and toured Texas colleges with his mom. At the University of Texas in Austin, he was part of a crowd of a hundred people, all touring the campus. At Southwestern, he walked into the Admission Office, and there was a sign that said, “Welcome, Scott!”
Bilthe got her degree in chemistry. Scott was a communications major. Blithe was an Alpha Xi Delta (AXiD). Scott was not in a fraternity. Blithe tutored students in chemistry. Scott started a film-production club. Blithe played a little soccer. Scott was the editor in chief of The Megaphone. They had never overlapped much with each other, and on the occasions that they had, it wasn’t memorable for either one of them.
“There wasn’t this moment of love at first sight,” Scott says.
They were ultimately brought together by technology, in a way that retrospectively seemed predictive of their future lives.
Scott had built the website for AXiD, and when one of Blithe’s sorority sisters graduated, the job of maintaining the website passed on to Blithe. “You need to meet with this website guy and get all of the software and credentials you need to update the website,” Blithe had been told.
So that summer, she invited Scott over to her apartment. When Scott got there, the first thing he noticed was that she had a laptop with an external monitor. For 2003, that was advanced. The external monitor was more out of necessity than anything—a bunch of books had fallen on Blithe’s laptop, and the screen had stopped working.
“All right,” Scott thought to himself. “This girl is different.”
Then Scott made his move—or what Blithe says was his move: he accidentally left all of his software in his apartment. Blithe says it was a “leave-behind.” Regardless of whether it was an accident or not, they had to get together one more time. One thing led to another: they started chatting on AOL Instant Messenger and then hanging out in person and then dating for real, even though Blithe was a sophomore and Scott was a senior, destined to leave Southwestern and head out west.
Because as much as Scott liked Blithe, he was also in love with California.
He visited for the first time when he was in middle school with his best friend from Houston, who had family living in Los Angeles. He’d never really traveled before, and he didn’t have a “wild Hollywood trip,” he says; he went to the museums and the mall and the beach like 13-year-olds do. He loved it so much that he went back with his friend a few times, and then his friend’s uncle got them both an internship at a research institute, and then the research institute offered to hire him after he graduated from Southwestern.
When Scott met Blithe, he already had his plan to move to California in place. Yet when he graduated, they didn’t feel like their relationship was quite over.
Scott moved out to Southern California. Meanwhile, Blithe was just starting her junior year. But she had entered college with a lot of credit, and she’d taken an 18-hour course load every semester, and she started thinking about applying to grad schools. If she got accepted, she decided that she would graduate early.
By the summer of 2005, she had graduated and was heading out to the University of Southern California to get her doctorate in physical chemistry. She moved to Los Angeles, making her long-distance relationship with Scott a shorter distance, although they still had separate apartments.
“We played it safe,” Blithe says. “We didn’t know we wanted to marry each other until much later. We’re very reasonable, rational people and we didn’t want to jump into any long-term commitment.”
Blithe graduated in 2011. Her dissertation was a “Velocity Map Imaging of the State-Specific Vibrational Predissociation of Water-Containing Hydrogen-Bonded Complexes.” In the introduction to her dissertation, she thanks one of her one of her Southwestern chemistry professors - Emily Niemeyer.
By this time, she had spent nine years in higher education. During her postgrad period, where she was a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University in Atlanta, she began reassessing her priorities, realizing that the next steps in her academic career path were to get a tenure-track position and to be committed to a single university. It was too inflexible. So she started programming. She liked the way she could make something out of nothing. She could solve problems in a way that had a direct result. She could be the creator.
“I realize this is pretty crazy after getting a Ph.D. and it’s very out of character for me,” she wrote in a blog post from 2013. “I make this leap with no regrets.”
Blithe is now an engineering manager at Fastly, a cloud computing services provider, where she’s part of the core engineering team that builds user interfaces and application program interfaces. Prior to her job at Fastly, Blithe worked to build the website for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016, talking her way into the job through a connection she met while speaking at a conference. It was two years before Clinton announced that she was running; at that time, the Clinton campaign didn’t officially exist.
When it was time for her team to test donation function on the website, they decided Blithe should be the first person to donate to Clinton. After all, she was the only woman software engineer on the team who was building the back end of the website.
Blithe credits her “upward mobility” to Southwestern, and she makes a point of giving back to the university and to other people who are in her position.
Scott had originally been in the computer science program at Southwestern but had switched to communications. He had toyed with the idea of pursuing journalism or filmmaking as a career but ultimately circled back around to tech after he graduated. Currently, Scott is the director of product management of the merchandising engineering team at Stitch Fix, a company that sends personalized orders of clothes to people who sign up for its service based on data the customers provide about themselves. He works with the engineering and business teams to keep the company’s technology on pace with its growing clientele.
Each morning, they take their son to daycare and commute into San Francisco for work together. In the evening, they pick Beau up, come home, cook dinner, and go to the park. They get back to Texas at least once a year to see their family and college friends. “We all have kids now and are not as wild as we used to be,” says Scott. “But we still get together with them for brunch.”
Neither Rocher would reveal details of how wild they once were. The closest thing they would say was a memory that they both have, 13 years after they graduated and moved away from Southwestern and Georgetown and Texas. Blithe and Scott had been dating for more than a few months but less than a year. It was Valentine’s Day, and through some bizarre, sentimental twist in Texas weather, it started to snow. It was hours past midnight. Scott and Blithe were still awake, and so was everyone else on campus. Everyone ran outside and played in the snow, late into the winter night.
And as far as records show, it hasn’t snowed on Valentine’s Day at Southwestern University since.