Growing up with Dogma

The most dangerous thought you can have as a creative person is that you know what you are doing.

  • Bret Victor, The Future of Programming

The creation of dogma

When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such a noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice.

Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up.

Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.


As web developers and designers, we tie up a lot of cats. We create dogma in places it does not need to be created.

Writing code to build software applications is a fairly new discipline when it comes to things humans have been doing across the vast history of time. Which makes it quite humorous when people use the phrase ‘best practice’ or act like anyone knows what they are doing.

So here are some reminders:

  • Most of the web is broken.
  • Most software is broken.
  • Most process is broken.
  • Everything we do could be done better with less effort.
  • No process is a silver-bullet.
  • People are bad at assessing value.
  • Don’t trust people who blindly consume dogma.
  • Test your theories and assumptions.
  • Don't forget your problems are not as important as the problems of those who you build things for.
  • Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Work together. Stand on the shoulders of giants.
  • Know that it's okay to not have the answers. The more important thing is identifying the problem.
  • People are good at solving problems. They are not great at identifying problems.
  • Be kind to everyone

If all software is broken, if everything isn’t bug-free and 100% accessible the first time we build it, then we can’t assume anything we are doing is the ‘correct way.’

We can do better. I think it’s time to dream bigger.

Here are some of the closing statements from Bret Victor’s talk ‘The Future of Programming’, that I have edited slightly for clarity. His talk is amazing and if you have time you should watch it.

The real tragedy would be that if people forgot you can have new ideas about programming models in the first place.

The real tragedy is if the next generation of programmers gets exposed to one way of programming. They work in that way of programming. And they figure it all out. And they teach that to the next generation. That second generation grows up thinking, oh it has all been figured out. We know what we are doing. They grow up with dogma. Once you grow up with dogma it’s really hard to break out of it.

Let’s try not to have the next generation grow up with dogma. Let's stop tying up cats.