Paul Graham makes some interesting observations about taking risks to achieve career benefits.
One thing he doesn’t mention is that the risks have to match your life situation. If you are 21, living with your parents, and single (typical for a CS graduate) then you should take the riskiest options in terms of your career (apart from working in Iraq of course). If you don’t have much money then you don’t have much to lose. If you live with your parents then you still have accommodation and food even if you have no money. If you have no dependents (SO or children) then there’s nothing compelling you to earn a certain income.
When you get older you may get a mortgage, a SO, and/or children. Also you won’t live with your parents forever. Most career risks that you might want to take aren’t possible if you leave them too late.
Finally if you do something risky such as starting your own company and it doesn’t work out then it’s still going to look good on your CV. If you already have a lot of experience in the industry then the CV improvement may not be worth the time and effort invested in an unsuccessful company.
When I was 22 I (along with two business partners) started an Internet cafe. It went reasonably well (by the standards of small businesses), it lasted for a few years before cheap net access at home killed most of the business. At the time the cafe had to close the ISP side of the business was doing reasonably well and one of my partners bought the operating ISP business. This buy-out caused me to approximately break even out of the entire business which is a lot better than most small businesses do. When I was 26 I moved to London (I have dual nationality, UK and Australian). The experience I had gained from running my own business allowed me to immediately get contract work for large ISPs in Europe.
Most of the risks in my career were ones that I took while living with my parents. At the time I didn’t think through the issues of mortgages etc, my thinking was mostly along the lines of “it could work, I’m bored, so why not?”. ;)
Update: While in the process of writing this blog post I forwarded the URL of a dating service for scientists (sciconnect.com) to some friends. The main page has pictures of single people wearing lab coats and using laptops which I found amusing. I have no idea whether it’s a good service or not, but the pictures on the main page made it worth a look. It seems that I accidentally pasted the wrong URL into my blog post so people who were looking for the Paul Graham article ended up at the dating service instead. But I guess if you are the type of person who reads my blog and who is interested in a link to Paul Graham’s blog and you happen to be single then a dating service for scientists might be of some interest.
Thanks to MJ Ray for pointing out my error.