Clueless newbie award: Scott Sassa of Friendster

Silicon Valley is a unique place to work, and people often have to make some cultural adjustments when they arrive. Usually, people who have been here for a while are very understanding about this adjustment period, and will do what they can to help. Every so often, though, a new arrival goes too far, and we are driven to make an award. And so I must reluctantly announce that the Silicon Valley Clueless Newbie Award for 2004 goes to Scott Sassa, CEO of Friendster.

Scott arrived in the area a few months ago from Southern California, where he did something or other in TV. He had no experience with the Internet, no experience managing software engineers, and all of his media experience was in broadcast — a one-way medium. One might expect a certain amount of humility from Scott, and a willingness to go through some on-the-job training. Instead, when Scott encountered his first genuinely two-way medium (a weblog) he panicked, and fired one of his key engineers for blogging.

That’s right — Scott fired one of Friendster’s most respected engineers, for blogging about Friendster. Fired her, what’s more, for blogging in a generally positive and non-specific manner about Friendster. (Judge for yourself.) There were no warnings, no requests to remove the material, no other reasons mentioned.

Two interesting questions about this firing: its morality and its legality. But even putting those minor considerations aside, you have to wonder what the guy is thinking. Has he heard that hiring and retention of good engineers around here is a challenge? Has it occurred to him that engineers talk to each other and compare notes? Has he wondered whether anyone in his/her right mind would take a job at Friendster after hearing this story? Scott, there are remedial classes available: ask your secretary to fill out the online application for you today.

By the way, Friendster makes its money by displaying _your_ own personal data publicly. If you’re a member, you can stop that by cancelling your Friendster account. (No, wait, that’s step 2. Step 1: tell all your friends.)

[Update: A couple of people complained that in my original post I didn’t exactly make it clear that I’m married to the fired engineer. Sorry about that — as I said in one of the comments, I’m not used to this being read by people we don’t both know already. Also, I am hardly cloaked here — if you stare really hard at my domain name, you might even be able to figure out my own name. I’m also JP’s co-author on the PHP Bible books.

These opinions are mine, not Joyce’s, and I still stand by every word. If you think I’m uniquely partisan, visit Jeremy’s blog for some pointers to similar opinions by people who aren’t married to Troutgirl, and for the start of the cancel-your-account campaign, which bandwagon I happily jumped on.]

67 thoughts on “Clueless newbie award: Scott Sassa of Friendster”

  1. Honestly, I really don’t get what she was fired for. Did he just say, “You’re fired for blogging these two entries.” with no further justification?

    Perhaps Friendster can send out some witty, hipster-speak e-mails to explain their decision.

  2. if “He had no experience with the Internet, no experience managing software engineers, and all of his media experience was in broadcast — a one-way medium,” how in the heck did he get his job?

  3. I would have understood if her post was anything specifically criticizing the choice of J2EE and if the article was directly nay-saying her, proving points about how the platform *does* scale, because that kind of thing politically affects those who chose the platform in the first place and monetarily affects raising cash, because it’s a point of criticism for new investors who now have reduced faith in technology decisions at the company…

    But it was neither — anyone who knew anything knew that Friendster was slow before and now that “.php” is at the end of their files, it’s faster. Big whoop. Firing her for the blog was just way, way out of line.

    And Tiffany, sadly, many people who run tech companies don’t know the business… to some, it’s just another field to make money in that’s “similar enough.”

  4. I don’t see how there is anything wrong with the firing of troutgirl. She represented a liability to Friendster’s trade secrets. The information that she released could be exploited by competitors. It also makes Friendster sound like it has been behind in the times. In today’s economy, secrets have more value then anything. Friendster has every right to protect their secrets (but not yours).

  5. I heard from a very reliable source that you are Joyce Park (Troutgirl)’s husband. Is this true? I question if it is right for you to disingenuously hiding this fact and hurting your wife’s friends’ livelihood?

  6. Nothing disingenuous about it — I don’t usually go into detail about such things here, and frankly I’m used to this blog being read by about five people all of whom know both me and Joyce. I think this is getting a wider audience than that, but I didn’t know that it would.

    But if you like, I’ll add this disclaimer: I’m Joyce Park’s husband. (This distinguishes me uniquely among the hundreds of people who are pissed off about this firing and are blogging about it – I’m the only one who is married to her.)

    Your concern about everyone’s livelihood but ours is noted.

  7. By the way, ‘kom’, can I in turn ask what your connection to this affair is? Are you an employee, a spouse, a disinterested observer? I ask because I’m suddenly seeing a number of pro-Friendster posts on various blogs, all with the “livelihood” theme, and using different handles.

  8. The issue here is not about this troutgirl being fired, its about the differences between two programming languages, which are JSP and PHP. Which is which? An article from the web states that JSP is far better than PHP. Why? These are some of the reasons:

    1. Anything you can do with PHP, you can do with JSP; the reverse is not true.

    2. JSP is much more powerful, since it has access to all the Java libraries. PHP only has access to PHP libraries

    3. JSP is Object-Oriented, so leads to cleaner code that’s easier to debug, maintain, and improve. (PHP also allows objects, but the object model is more primitive, and most scripted pages
    ignore PHP objects and just use normal

    4. The equivalent syntax in JSP is just as simple to learn, so you can get up and running just as quickly — that is, there’s no extra startup cost in using Java, at least not a significant one Java programmers (as opposed to 15-year-old
    hackers or HTML monkeys) appreciate the importance of a clean language with complex OO data structures and strong typing.

    5. With JSP, if the code inside a page gets too big, or if you want to use it elsewhere, you can cut it out, make it into a Java class, and invoke it from
    anywhere in your application (even not from a page). With PHP, you’re stuck inside the HTML box.

    6. JSP’s concept of state management and persistence is more explicit and powerful than PHP’s. With JSP, you can specify whether a variable persists for the page, the request, the session, or the application (or if it’s just local to the
    function). The JSP engine automatically does the right thing with cookies so you have access to the variable on later requests. With PHP, you just ave “global” and “not global”, you don’t have
    automatic session management, and have to do your state thing manually with cookies or hidden variables.

    So, whoever claims that PHP is far better than JSP, think again!!! Ü

  9. Few people seem to know about Scott Sassa’s appearance on the TV dating show “Blind Date” a few years ago. This was no mere cameo: Sassa participated for a whole episode. Unlike the usual non-professional colorful types, eg fitness trainer by day and…

  10. i’ve read the blogs that troutgirl wrote and it seems to me she didn’t revealed any super-duper-important trade secret. she simply said that friendster shifted from jsp to php.

    i have a friendster account but haven’t used it for months now because it cccrrraaawwwlllsssssss sssssoooooo sssssllllooooooowwww. earlier today i saw my brother log in to his friendster acct. and i noticed that the page extensions are .php. its a very obvious indication that friendster is now using PHP.

    so, if scott “sasser” thinks that by not telling anyone about the shift he is protecting trade secrets, he is wrong. just by looking at the page extensions i have concluded that php is now being used at friendster even before i learned about it and this stupid firing of troutgirl. and even if they configure apache to interpret .jsp files as php, people will start to notice some difference in loading speeds and will conclude that something happened to friendster (an upgrade in hardware or code optimization perhaps).

  11. This is big news, and many sites (communities and blogs) are picking this up. We’re hopping on the bus ride. C|Net like many others have picked up the torch to denounce the new CEO Scott Sassa for terminating Joyce Park for blogging and leaving posit…

  12. I just cancelled my Friendster account in solidarity. I wasn’t using it anyway; my LinkedIn account is more useful, and my Orkut account is more interesting. Friendter was trapped in-between being useful and being fun, which meant it was actually pretty useless…

  13. “But it was neither — anyone who knew anything knew that Friendster was slow before and now that “.php” is at the end of their files, it’s faster.”

    It is? Last time I checked it was still slow and buggy. Unless this was recently.

  14. Timboy. Since kom does not want to seem to reveal his identity why don’t you post here the ip address or at least the domain that he entered your site with. As it appears that there is no record of his id at yahoo and his name and email do not come up under Google suggesting that this is a recent id or someone who has not posted much in the past.

    It is possible that this user id was created solely for the comment in an attempt to discredit criticism of Friendster. If this is the case and it came from inside Friendster that would really be something as it would be their second significant PR blunder in a row. I’m not sure that they are not smarter than that about hiding their internet tracks… but you never know.

    All of this is, of course, just wild speculation at this point, but have you at least checked the incoming ip address on his post?

  15. By the way, when I emailed Friendster yesterday letting them know of my disapproval of this issue and a link to it on my site when they checked their email and clicked on the link the incoming domain was identified as coming from within Friendster. Not sure that you track this kind of stuff but if you do it might be interesting.

  16. “And Tiffany, sadly, many people who run tech companies don’t know the business… to some, it’s just another field to make money in that’s “similar enough.””

    Yes. I know. Happens all the time in the news biz. Still don’t get it.

  17. That might have been the worst managerial decision ever made. You both have my sympathy.
    Now, onto the serious stuff.
    Have you seen a lawyer yet? Sounds like wrongful dismissal to me, and I’m pretty sure if they can’t provide a good reason for it a decent lawyer could get them for it.
    And did troutgirl’s contract state that any work she did would be owned by the company? If not she might have intellectual copyright on the website and each day they use her code they’re in violation.
    I’m sure she’ll have no problem finding a new job, so good luck to both of you.

  18. After reading the story on ZDNet I posted what turned out to be a dissertation rather than a mere comment on your wife’s blog, quite the rant. She’ll have no problem finding another job. I’m glad she maintained grace in her blog about being canned. I wonder if in only a few months, this new CEO has managed to do serious harm to this company…

  19. Well, my guess is on the whole “exposing IP trip” although techs know she wasn’t really giving anything away. I could understand the firing if there were previous warnings, if she were blogging deeper details, or if she blogged links to secret sites (e.g. “I just finished working on our new feature that won’t be public for another month and it’ll help against competitors, here’s a link to it and by the way the sa password is ‘dinkleby'”). Do we really have the whole story here? Did Sasser first ask Troutgirl to stop blogging about what she did at work and she gave him the finger & then he fired her? I mean, I doubt that, but it’s so hard to imagine that a CEO can be so clueless as to can someone w/o warning for so little. Maybe people had it in for her. Maybe the internet is too scary. I know a lot of non-tech execs who love anything that blinks…

  20. The only way that I could think that that Friendster would have a right to fire her would be if there was a probationary period for employment. Some normal probationary periods are from 2 months to a year. Was there a probatioary period? If so, they could fire her for WHATEVER reason.

    But from what I have read, it looks like a really cheap shot, stupid move, whatever description you like. I don’t have a Friendster account, and I’m not in to the “Bloggin” thing. But it still seems that 1st amendment rights should still apply.

    The only thing I can think of is that Friendster didn’t want anyone to know what their site was written in. Guess I’m not tekkie enough or business oriented enough to see that it matters as everyone who does this kind of work should already know what tools are out there to do the work.

  21. is there a letter from the Friendster CEO that would somehow serve as proof that Joyce Park was fired for blogging? sorry if i seem to be disbelieving; i’m just wary of urban legends, and it’s so difficult to be getting the story only from one side.

  22. in solidarity, Ken and I deleted our accounts. Of course, it belatedly occured to us that we should have sent a mass Friendster mailer via their system first!


  23. it’s easy to cancel your Friendster account, especially if the reason is, say, the firing of one of it’s engineers (Joyce Park, a.k.a. Troutgirl) for blogging (Wiki). and particularly easy if the blogging in question had nothing to do with any sort o…

  24. it’s easy to cancel your Friendster account, especially if the reason is, say, the firing of one of it’s engineers (Joyce Park, a.k.a. Troutgirl) for blogging (Wiki). and particularly easy if the blogging in question had nothing to do with any sort o…

  25. I saw Discfree’s reply, and no one’s bothered to reply to it directly. I think it’s because of it’s sheer naivete on Discfree’s part on one hand, and the exasperation that I have for people who have half a brain like Discfree (no offense for people who have half a brain).

    Discfree wrote:
    She represented a liability to Friendster’s trade secrets. The information that she released could be exploited by competitors.

    My reply:
    Have you seen Troutgirl’s comments?

    I assume Discfree’s technologically-deprived, so I’ll provide him with an analogy: what Troutgirl did is like a UPS driver fired for telling his friends about how much easier it is to drive around San Francisco in a new Chevy, as opposed to the old Fords they used to drive. Everyone who uses UPS can see that the old trucks are gone, and as service is better, everyone gives them a pat on the back.

    Friendster fired an employee for giving her company positive PR. I’m at a loss for words for the Friendster execs, but I’ve got vitriol up the wazoo for people who believe that corporate excuse hook, line, and sinker.

    I’d nominate Scott Sassa/Sasser for Dilbert’s PHB of the Year award, but it still doesn’t exist yet. Someone has to give an award for the lamest management move ever made.

    If Discfree is part of a PR team that’s trying to blow out the fire, it’s not working.

    I’m deleting my account by week’s end.

    As an earlier poster commented, I believe you do have a good case against Friendster.

  26. I live in Europe where this dismissal would be very difficult to justify. I did a six country study on why people “should” get fired and found that among all the reasons given (more than forty) no one mentioned mild criticism as a good reason to dismiss an employee. You can see the article on my personal webpages at: (Give me a few hours to get the article uploaded please)

    Good Luck Ms. Park


  27. This is pretty off-topic, but anyone notice how slow Orkut is? And it seems to use ASP. Could someone please go rewrite that in PHP? Please?

    Oh, and all those brazilians… Hawt!

  28. I think Joyce being fired is ridiculous, and I am sorry for her that it happened. But I’m sure that this will open bigger and better doors with furture opportunity.

    Unfortunately I have seen many TV executives fire people for reasons amounting to no more than being looked at the wrong way. They can’t do anything creative and resent those that can.

    No one really knows what is in Sassa’s head (if anything) except him, but I would suspect that he truly doesn’t understand the Internet medium and was just asserting some clout to show staff that he is in charge.

    I read Joyce’s bolgs and there is nothing in there that undermines Friendster. It’s a social networking website, it’s not CIA.

    It’s completely unfair to have fired Joyce without warning and without a company policy exclaiming rules and regulations of employee activity.

    To take away someone’s livelyhood with so little disregard is truly a crime and a cowardly act at that.

    Best of luck to you both! 🙂

  29. I’m really sorry for Joyce and hope she finds a great new job soon.

    About Orkut and brazilians (#37), I just wanted to point that brazilians are cool, happy, good people, don’t like and don’t make stupid wars. Brazilians live their lives MAKING FRIENDS, that’s why there are so many brazilians at Orkut. You who wrote the post #37 should learn to be happy like them.

  30. I think the best way to go about this is by posting an entry on your Friendster Bulletin Board to let your contacts know you’ll be canceling your account in say, 30 days. You can ask them to pass the word along, then wait out the 30 days

  31. Wow-I feel for Joyce. This is another sad example of a company that just doesn’t “get it”. Not only have they hurt their own reputation by this act of stupidity. They have also lost a talent.

    It is their loss.

  32. Lol, this is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard…How does a guy like Sasser ever get hired in the first place? You’d be better off recruiting CEO’s from park benches…

    This guy is going to go down in history as a dumbass, what a legacy…

  33. Seriously, it’s just BAD JUDGEMENT to blog about your job. It’s Legal for fire someone for NO reason (it’s called at will employment) and Moral to fire someone who shows bad judgement.

  34. Adam, your wish is my command. Please comment further … at least if you’re the real Adam and not one of those Adambots. (I know they exist, because I’ve seen them with 50000 friends on social networking sites. What human could do that?)

  35. Few people seem to know about Scott Sassa’s appearance on the TV dating show “Blind Date” a few years ago. This was no mere cameo: Sassa participated for a whole episode. Unlike the usual non-professional colorful types, eg fitness trainer by day and…

  36. The truth of the matter is that Scott Sassa is a total hype. A bullshitter supreme who knows nothing about the internet. I know.

  37. What a load of crap — firing your wife because she has a blog?? I was thinking about signing up for a Friendster account — ummmm…NOT ANYMORE THANK YOU.

    Jeez. All this chaos in someone’s life just because they choose to write.

  38. So what has happened to Friendster? Has it lost it remaining engineers? Have people dropped its product? Do consumers and workers really care about unethical firings?

  39. This is bad news. I’ve regretted reading the news from the first day I came across the blog entries. Both of you are respectable talented people, and there is no doubt in my mind Joyce will be abe to find bigger and better jobs where employers will respect her for the work she produce for the company not for blogging during her leasure time.

    In my opinion, its highly unethical and raises big cause for concern. Especially now that Friendster decided to follow the blogging movement.

  40. This guy sounds like a typical no idea manager bloke sort, bred on profit, but not a clue about people. I’m not saying he did it because the person was female, but women get a hard time in the industry anyway, esp ones that don’t fit nicely and happily in with the blokey culture, funny that, it’s because they’re women, duh, but surprisingly still actually human. Weird, yeah. Sounds like this guy is an idiot anyway. Trouble is people want to appear important in any way they can, to be special. Indeed western culture makes us feel we too can be the special one, the popstar, whatever, its a carrot to keep us going in a system, where we are atoms of consumerism – yeah you’ve heard it all before, oh wait, no some people still have their head in the sand – pull it out and read a book or something, or watch a foreign film for a chance, get out more – no not to the bowling alley again, do something different (oh well live in the bubble then, mediocrity suits you). Blogging gives people a chance to say something someone else might read, that makes them feel a little bit more important than they used to think they were. Everyone can be a spiritual guide, philosopher, psychologist, agony aunt, magazine writer, famous person now and ‘people will flock to read what I say’. (I’m thinking the bit in inverted comas should be said like Galadriel in LOTR – ‘All shall love me and despair’ kind of thing (bit geeky, aye). I’m not having a go at anyone, just a general chuckle that mostly people need to get a life and do something useful, save a goat or something, just don’t talk crap all day and think everyone hangs off your every word. Man, people need to get lives. Uh oh, I’m talking crap and thinking people are reading it now, ahh fallen into my own trap. Off to buy some shopping for my elderly next door neighbour, though only myself and the lady next door know about it, it won’t make me or her famous, and noone gets my amateur psychology blogs on the internet. That’s the difference between actually being special to someone and you thinking you’re special to everyone because you blog, which is probably a minor psychological problem you have. (Might be an opening for my amateur psychology blogs after all, woo hoo!)

  41. Jimmy— I have read your comment carefully, and given it a lot of thought. I am left with just one question: what do you have against bowling, anyway?

  42. Hmmm… Ok… I realize this is an old blog but I just now stumbled into it.

    I must say. I personally know Scott Sassa. No one is perfect but blogs can be so unfair and rough. Like ass holes… everyone has an opinion. We must be careful what we believe out here… there are 2 sides to this story I am sure and even thought I don’t know all the details I will say this: I know Scott Sassa personally and I find him to be a descent person. I lived with him and his family for several years and found them to be uniquely generous and kind in a town that knows no authenticity.

    Scott Sassa – perfect? NO… but neither am I and I’d love to know the other side of the story that started this harsh blog.

    By the way – I didn’t see Scott’s blog out here trying to defend himself by publicly humiliating the girl he supposedly “fired for blogging”. Everyone gets fired… even Scott… so what…. move on people. Blog is not the answer. (truth + lies = blog)


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