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Flabbergasted: Four Alibaba engineers sacked for 124 boxes of mooncakes

By Alex Farley (People's Daily Online)    02:50, September 14, 2016

Yesterday, between 4:30 PM and 6:00 PM, four software engineers working in Alibaba’s security response center lost their jobs. The reason? Mooncakes. 124 boxes of mooncakes, to be exact.

For those that don’t know, Chinese people celebrate the upcoming Lunar Festival by buying mooncakes for their friends, family members, co-workers, taxi drivers, doormen, dogs, their dog’s friends, and pretty much anyone with a heartbeat. The little desserts come in all shapes and sizes: some are filled with custard, eggnog, pork, or even coconut flakes. The price ranges from dirt-cheap to absurdly expensive. And sending these tiny little cakes is seen in China as a way of sending someone your respects and affection.

Alibaba, China’s homegrown tech behemoth, took the liberty of offering their employees a mooncake discount. As one can imagine, Alibaba employees were quick to jump at the opportunity to save some money while buying the dozens of mooncakes necessary for a successful holiday. Unfortunately, when four software engineers decided to write a JavaScript program to automate their purchasing needs, they made a mistake in the program. Or, at least, that’s what they’re saying.

According to an unconfirmed post on Zhihu, China’s version of Quora, the engineers say they are innocent and simply made a small error in writing the code. The error resulted in them buying 124 boxes of mooncakes. That’s anywhere between 700 to 800 mooncakes.

Within an hour and a half of their grave error, they were summoned by superiors, their contracts terminated, and they were escorted out of the building. Since then, one of the four engineers has taken to the internet and succeeded in drawing mass attention to the seemingly unfair resolution. While many support the engineers, others suspect them of taking advantage of the discount in order to sell the cakes later. Some feel they were just flexing their programming muscles.

An important note here is that software engineers at Alibaba are paid well. Senior engineers can make up to $123,658 USD a year, according the glassdoor.com. Additionally, Alibaba is one of the most competitive companies for Chinese people to break into, similar to Apple or Google. Perhaps these four weren’t looking to make some extra cash. Maybe they were really just showing off their programming skills, shooting themselves in the foot by accident.

In response, Alibaba’s Chief Risk Office Wang Shuai has come out and provided the other side of the story. Liu said that because of the group’s mass purchasing, other employees were unable to reap the benefits of cheap mooncakes. The tasty, sweet benefits. He also noted that Alibaba disapproves of using company discounts to flip goods for a profit, including desserts. Lastly, Mr. Liu signed off with a word of wisdom for their employees: Every game has rules, and occasionally there are inevitabilities. There’s nothing we can do as everything has a limit. We are regretful and wish them (the four ex-employees) a better future. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Zou Luxiao, Bianji)

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