"Once you know the rules, you are free to break them" by@halexmorph

"Once you know the rules, you are free to break them"

Jacob Landry HackerNoon profile picture

Jacob Landry

Senior Software Engineer On an exciting journey to learn new things all the time.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Every once in a while in life you meet someone extraordinary.

These folks become someone you admire or strive to become, without even meaning to most of the time. This is usually brought on by just, in general, being a good person.

For me, I find I can connect with someone instantly if they’re truly good at what they do and good at heart. These can be managers, teachers, or random people in the grocery store. But when you are a truly good person, it shows instantly when you speak.

These may not be revolutionary to everyone, they may not even seem important. But there are several comments and phrases that I carry around with me daily and repeat often.

They have made a huge impact on my life and I want to share them with those who might need it. This will be a series of short articles explaining some key phrases that I live by every day.

“Once you Know the Rules You’re Free to Break Them”

My high school English teacher said this to us in class once.

As kids, we clearly didn’t grasp the concept fully but as I get older, it rings more and more true.

She was teaching us that, as long as we can demonstrate an understanding of grammar, she would allow us to break the rules because sometimes there’s a good reason for doing things “wrong.”

However, this quote speaks to me on more levels than just writing.

What she was really telling us is, if you truly understand the rules then you also understand the consequences for breaking those rules. And from that understanding comes the ability to rationalize the pros and cons of following the rule.

If you have a good reason for breaking the rule and are willing to accept the consequences for doing so, then you’re in a position where it is acceptable to do so (at least from your own ethical standpoint).


Let’s use a real-world example first because sometimes that’s easier to digest. Let’s consider a speed limit. I would like to assume that, though most of us don’t adhere to it, we all know why the speed limit exists. Speed limits are placed on roads to keep everyone safe by ensuring multiple things.

  • Cars are going at a safe speed for the number of (and type of) pedestrians around.

  • Cars are going at a safe speed for the type of weather that exists (or usually exists) on this road.

  • Cars are going a safe speed for the other cars on the road.

  • Cars are not disrupting traffic.

There are definitely more reasons for a speed limit but I think these are the key reasons. We also have consequences to breaking the speed limit, some are definite, some are situational and only possibilities:

  • Driving unsafely could cause you to unintentionally harm pedestrians.

  • Driving unsafely could cause you to get into an accident, injuring yourself or someone else.

  • Driving unsafely could cause a traffic jam or backup.

  • Driving unsafely could result in a fine.

Of course, we know that if a cop pulls you over you’re likely to get a fine, the rest all depend on you losing control of your vehicle.

Let’s consider a situation where I would consider going over the speed limit.

Highway Driving


  • Driving too fast could cause me to lose control and I could go off the road or hit another vehicle.

  • Driving too fast can result in me receiving a speeding ticket and having to pay a fine.


  • Driving too fast will get me to my destination minutes faster (usually you don’t save as much time as you think)

In this situation, I run a risk of injuring myself or another person, and the reward is just to save a few minutes of driving time. It really doesn’t make sense to do it, but if I choose to do it I am doing so knowing full well that I am putting myself and others at risk and am making the conscious decision that this is worth it (note: it really isn’t, don’t do it).

Let’s try a Programming Example

I have a basic rule that I work by: no production releases on Friday.

I like the code to have at least one full day in production for me to witness it succeeding before heading off on a weekend to enjoy my free time.

No matter how much you test, or how sure you are of yourself, someday you’re going to release code on a Friday then work all weekend trying to fix something, and that’s no fun at all.


  • Could introduce a new bug into production


  • Code is complete and you can start the next week with fresh work

Again, in this situation, it doesn’t feel like the risks outweigh the rewards so I would make the conscious decision to not release, however, if I did decide to release I would do so knowing that I accept the full responsibility to fix any issues that I create.

However, there are always exceptions. Say, for instance, someone FINDS a critical flaw on Friday and they need to use your app that weekend.


  • You could present a new bug into production


  • You fix a critical issue that would impact users on the weekend
  • Your clients are satisfied that you handled all of your critical tasks before the week ended
  • You show initiative in taking a risky situation and owning it

I would decide to fix the issue because going into the weekend knowing something is broken isn’t any different from going into the weekend thinking something might be broken.

I’d rather fix the issue I know about and risk breaking something else than impact my users for the weekend and return to grumpy emails on Monday. I would make this decision knowing that I believed the rewards outweighed the risks and knowing that I was willing to accept any issues that are caused by actions.


So just to wrap this up with a tldr;

If you understand the rules you’re free to break them” doesn’t mean “if you KNOW the rules, then you can break them.

There is a key difference in knowing something and understanding it.

To understand a rule is to understand why it was made, to understand who it protects and why, to understand what the consequences are to breaking it. Once you fully understand all of those things you are prepared to make an educated decision.

I’m sure you’ll find that, most of the time, you follow rules because it’s the right thing to do, but when it comes time to take a risk and break some rules you’ll know you’re doing it with the best possible intentions and all of the required information to make yourself as successful as possible.

Note: I do not, in any way, condone breaking traffic laws. Speed limits are important to keep you and everyone around you safe, please follow them.


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