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Engineers: It’s time we make changes to our tech vocabulary.

The world of engineering is creative, analytical, and ever-changing. It’s a fulfilling field—one full of growth and opportunity. It’s also a space that deserves to be enjoyed by diverse voices and backgrounds. And that requires renewed efforts to make it as inclusive as possible.

PI’s engineering department is intent on being better advocates for diversity and inclusion. One of the ways we’re effecting change is by updating our vocabulary. We know we must clean up our technical language to put a wrench in the perpetuation of racism.

By fostering an environment of greater psychological safety, we help ensure all voices feel heard and valued. This is also a key step in attracting and recruiting diverse engineering talent.

Striving to be better

All PI employees strive to promote THREADS, seven guiding principles we follow in our day-to-day. These values are: teamwork, honesty, reliability, energy, action, drive, and scope. Yet these values manifest differently depending on the person. This makes self-awareness of our behavioral drives especially crucial.

As a Collaborator, I’m naturally a team player, honest, and reliable. But with a lower dominance factor and a need for harmony, I say yes to a lot of things. I know I need to put more effort into driving projects to completion. I also need to keep an eye on what I can realistically accomplish without overextending myself (i.e., scope).

This self-awareness is a trait we encourage everyone to build, regardless of their role, tenure, or standing in the organization. It promotes an appreciation for how our words and actions impact others, and helps build trust within our teams. So in the spirit of self-awareness, our engineering team is taking action—starting with our existing terminology.

PI engineers working in the office

Changes worth making

We recognize how we refer to branches in our code repositories or things like IP restrictions, while industry standard, need to change. (As I typed “industry standard,” I was immediately stricken with remorse, as standard is literally what the current social justice movement aims to correct.) So let’s get started.

GitHub was among the first companies to address its tech terminology. Scott Hanselman, someone I have admired and respected for my entire career, took action (and even made it look easy). And there’s a groundswell of momentum forming.

Now it’s our turn. Here are two of the changes we’re making:

  • IP restrictions: We’re updating our documentation and language for IP restrictions from “white/black” lists to “allowed/blocked” lists.
  • Code repositories: We’re renaming the default branch in all of our code repositories from “master” to “main.”

On paper, these are simple tweaks, but in practice, they’re a bit more complicated. For code repositories in particular, the change requires updating build pipeline tooling, automation, and documentation. We also need to update every engineer’s local index, along with their conversations.

But these changes are important to us. Yes, there’s some work to be done here, but it’s a fairly low lift considering the weight of the situation. Words matter, and we must all do our part to combat racism and fight for racial equality.

Let’s make these changes together.

So, fellow engineers: Let’s do our part. If you’re not already changing your nomenclature, start the conversation. Bring this up during your next team meeting, or in a 1 on 1 with your manager. 

This is only one of many steps toward real change. But it’s an important one as we look to foster a more diverse, inclusive, and equal workplace.

>>Ready to take the next step? Follow these tips to attract and recruit diverse engineering talent.
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