June 16, 2020

Language Matters: Why and How Tugboat is Updating Its Language

Dachary Carey

Tugboat (and our parent company, Lullabot) strives to be inclusive, recognizing and valuing the humanness in one another. One way we can do this is by examining the language we use internally, as well as in our customer-facing repositories and documentation.

There have been a number of conversations recently around how language perpetuates the systematic racism endemic in our society. We’ve been re-examining problematic terms in tech that are not inclusive or may innately challenge the humanness in all members of our org and our audience, so you’ll see some changes soon to some of the language you may have come to expect.

Changing branch names from master to main

It’s an established convention in git-based workflows that the base repository branch is called the master branch. This is the branch that is created by default when you git init a new project, and is typically the branch you’re merging into when you merge PRs or feature branches.

With the recent pushes for change across our society, it has become clear that “established convention” isn’t a good reason to continue to use master as the name for the base branch in a git repository. This RFC draft on “Terminology, Power and Offensive Language” gives a good summary of some of the reasons this language is unacceptable, as well as providing recommendations on what to use instead. Here at Tugboat, we’ve decided to follow in the footsteps of Drupal, Python, Django, and many others in changing this terminology both internally and in our documentation. We’ve decided to use main, instead, for the default branch.

Changing whitelist to allow list

While we’re on the topic of language that is accepted by convention but isn’t the most accurate or descriptive, and which is offensive to many people, we’ve been looking at whitelist/blacklist. Moving forward, Tugboat will use “allow list” to refer to a list of accepted IP addresses that are permitted to pass through a firewall. This term is more descriptive of the actual function of the list, and it also removes unnecessary and offensive terminology from our documentation.

When you can expect to see these changes

We’re a small org doing our best to make these changes on the fly, but there are many places where these terms appear; in our documentation, in our tech, and in our screenshots.

We’re making these changes quickly where we’re able; by the time you read this article, we’ve probably already updated many of our repositories and the text on our documentation website.

Some changes, particularly where we’re dependent on other services to make it possible for us to make these changes without breaking functionality, may take a little longer. We’re filing tickets where we can to help move these things forward.

The slowest updates will probably be to our screenshots, which we generate manually as we write documentation. We’ll update these screens as we’re able, and hope to get all these references removed soon, but it will be more of a work-in-progress.

One of many things we’re doing

We recognize that changing a few words in our documentation and our product doesn’t solve all the problems we’re grappling with as a society right now around racism, lack of diversity and inclusion, and equality for all. Our parent company, Lullabot, has issued a statement that outlines where we stand regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as some of the additional things we’re doing to make positive changes in this singular time.

We’ll continue to look for ways to improve in the future, as we learn more about what it means to truly be a supportive and inclusive organization. At the end of the day, we want to do better for our fellow humans.

Did we miss something?

Have you found a spot where we’ve missed a reference to these terms? Is there some other language we should be considering that we’ve missed in this initial pass? Let us know! Send us a Tweet @TugboatQA, or drop us a message via our Support form or in our Support Slack.

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