Salary Survey Extra: Where there's smoke ...
Posted on
May 4, 2023

Salary Survey Extra is a series of periodic dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our most recent Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

We can all stop being coy: Who started the fire?

We're all pretty certain about how the universe works in certain "laws of physics"-type ways, as well as on the level of shared common-sense acceptance of the Way Things Are. An object in motion tends to stay in motion, the Earth revolves around the Sun, I before E except after C (or when sounded like A, etc.), don't put ketchup on steak.

There are a lot of mysteries in the universe, however, that humankind has never quite come to grips with, and that we may not ever fully wrap our heads around. It was noted cosmological theorist William Martin Joel who — following prolonged observation of rapid oxidation of various fuels via the exothermic chemical process of combustion — first postulated that the collective "we" are not responsible for the commencement of flames.

Joel did not attempt to determine the origin of the ongoing blaze that others have experienced essentially at all times and in all places throughout human history. He did, on the other hand, compile a famous list of notable evidences that a sustained conflagration continues. For example, Joel considers Chubby Checker, Psycho, and "Belgians in the Congo," to be comparably relevant signifiers.

Longtime CertMag readers are no doubt unaccustomed to this much ponderous hard-nosed intellectual inquiry from the Salary Survey Extra team. Hey, sometimes we're all just kickin' it under the apple tree when science happens. Around about last fall, we decided to follow up on Mr. Joel's line of inquiry.

To settle the issue, we picked up where Mr. Joel's original thesis just kind of tapers off. Instead of simply shrugging our shoulders, however, we dug down deep by appealing to the vast knowledge base of certified IT professionals who participate in the Salary Survey each year.

Here's what we learned:

Q: Who started the fire?

It definitely wasn't us. — 17.1 percent
Prometheus — 13.2 percent
An arsonist, maybe? — 11.5 percent
Mrs. O'Leary's cow — 7.9 percent
Spontaneous C. Ombustion — 8.6 percent
Maybe we're only dreaming. Is this burning an eternal flame? — 8.9 percent
I don't know how this thing got started, but R-O-L-A-I-D-S spells relief. — 4.4 percent
It was always burning. Like, probably since the world's been turning. — 28.4 percent

So it turns out that a lot of folks are pretty sure they were picking up what we were putting down. The two most popular options are the ones that align most closely and neatly with Mr. Joel's attempts to make sense of the problem. Nearly 30 percent of those surveyed believe that the fire was always burning, while 17 percent are at least confident that the collective "we" should not, indeed cannot, be held responsible. (Perhaps because she was touching her face?)

Prometheus is the titan who incurred the wrath of Zeus by, you know, starting the fire. More or less directly. So it makes sense that 13.2 percent of those surveyed are like, "Well, yeah, it was that guy." And yeah, it's been pretty well established that arsonists like to play with matches. So there's that.

Mrs. O'Leary's cow is famous for (allegedly) starting the fire that destroyed 3.3 square miles of Chicago in 1871, so it certainly makes sense that the cow would get some votes. And Susanna Lee Hoffs, who first formulated the "eternal flame" theorem in 1988, is from the same school of scientific research as Mr. Joel.

We haven't actually met everyone on Earth or read about everyone who ever lived, so it's hard to 100 percent rule out this "Spontaneous C. Ombustion" guy. (But that is a pretty weird name.) And, this R-O-L-A-I-D-S nonsense doesn't actually answer the question, now, does it? So It makes sense that that would be the least popular answer option.

At least everyone who participated in the Salary Survey — and didn't opt out of this question — can take comfort in the fact that they had sufficient moral fiber to stand tall and answer the question. In his final writings on the topic, Mr. Joel is still just throwing up his hands. "No," he declares, "we didn't light it. But we tried to fight it." Did you, Billy Boy? Did you really?

About the Author

Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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