From 996 Working to ICU Waiting

Sunday May 10th 2020 by SocraticDev

A "996" work schedule refers to an unofficial work schedule (9a.m. ~ 9p.m., 6 days a week) that has been gaining in popularity in China. Serving a company that encourages the "996" work schedule usually means working for at least 60 hours a week.

Companies that changed the technological realm were startups without financial means

Any developer is above all a recycler: he uses existing technologies to create new ones. We are not reinventing the wheel. Besides, 'reinventing the wheel' is a deadly sin to a developer.

In the West, there are two ways: the proprietary software route and the free software route. Large organizations use almost exclusively proprietary software while start-ups with little financial means use almost exclusively free software.

996 culture slows free software development in China

Several political factors influence the technological sphere in China. The Grand Firewall of China is an apparatus which significantly limits Internet access to Chinese people. The Chinese do not drink like us from Google and Twitter but from clones in every way similar.

Chinese developers still have access to the same programming languages ​​and libraries as we do ... as long as the documentation is available in their native language. For example, VueJS, a javascript framework created by Evan You, has a great success in China because its documentation was quickly translated into Chinese.

Why aren't there more Chinese learning English? This would allow them to have immediate access to the latest news. This would allow them to catch up. We might even hope to see them participate more actively in the world of free software. After all, most of the big Chinese companies do profit from the colossal amount of work of the contributors of the open source ...

996 culture effectively hampers the development of free software in China. Imagine having to work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Would you really want to start learning a foreign language? Would you really have the audacity to park yourself in front of a computer screen and fix other bugs during your sole day off?

Alienation through the cult of productivity

However, large Chinese entrepreneurs like Jack Ma of Alibaba exploit this 'ethical' conception of hard work in order to reap disproportionate profits at the expense of their skilled workforce. For Jack Ma, the 72-hour week is a blessing. The head of an e-commerce giant, Richard Liu, is afraid of losing his competitive advantage if his employees worked less: "Slackers are not my brothers!".

996 ICU: leveraging Github to develop a protest

In April 2019, the challenge from young Chinese developers moved to servers. Developers have opened a repository on the code-sharing site to protest against their working conditions.

The 'project' offers several revolutionary features:

  • It lists the companies imposing the 996 regime;
  • It displays the labor laws of China;
  • It describes an 'anti-996' license which would prevent the listed abusive companies from using your open-source project.

As of May 9, 2020, the project has received more than 249,000 stars in support.

Translated from french with Google Translate


The Rise of Open Source Communities in China (youtube video : 11min20sec)

What is "996"?

github 996.ICU

Jack Ma defends the 'blessing' of a 12-hour working day

Between the Wires: An interview with Vue.js creator Evan You