Freddy Vega didn’t hate college. He was a proud computer science student at one of the best colleges in Colombia, the National University in Bogota. But he had a problem.
As a teenager, he taught himself how to create interactive products in Flash, a technology very popular at the time. He was good enough to land his first gig at the age of 14. In 2004, several jobs later and at the age of 17, he created Cristalab, a website for sharing programming knowledge.
It was a side gig between work and then college.But la Nacho, as Colombians call the university, is a tough place. “The only way to survive was to study full time,” Vega remembers.
Meanwhile, Cristalab was attracting people from all over the Spanish-speaking world: at its peak, it had three million monthly visitors. It brought in enough advertising revenue to cover salaries for Vega and two other employees. For a man raised in a working-class family by a single mother and his grandparents, who once wrote a glum post complaining he could not afford a scanner to digitise his comics, it represented a triumph.
“One day I just stopped going to college,” Vega remembers. By 2006, Cristalab was a better use of his time. “The more work I put in on it, the more it grew.”
Six years later he co-founded Mejorando.la, an e-learning platform, with Christian van der Henst, a former competitor. It was renamed Platzi in 2014, a more English-friendly name. Through this platform, which offers short online courses in key skills, Vega is helping young Latin American developers make the same kind of strides that launched his success – and providing a new non-traditional route up the career ladder.