Lego, the maker of plastic bricks, is rapidly expanding its software development teams to meet the growing demand for virtual experiences.
Lego is rapidly expanding its software engineering teams as it diversifies from plastic bricks to bits and bytes, but can it compete with top tech companies for the best talent?
The Danish company is investing heavily to become a more technology-driven company, following the explosive popularity of online building games such as Roblox and Microsoft’s Minecraft.
Lego saw the missed opportunity and announced a collaboration with video game maker Epic in April this year. The two companies will work together to build new experiences in the metaverseblurring the line between digital and physical building experiences.
“The partnership with Epic is our journey into the metaverse and there’s a big product there to work on and a technology piece to design for that,” Atul Bhardwaj, group head of digital and technology at Lego Group, told InfoWorld.
To immediately address these opportunities, Lego is looking to build its in-house software engineering team, aiming to: triple his digital team up to 1,800 people by the end of 2023, spread across offices in Copenhagen and Billund in Denmark, London and Shaghai.
Enabling a digital transformation at Lego
To reinforce that transformation, Bhardwaj talks about making Lego more product-driven, technical and architecture-driven.
“I’m looking at product-driven rather than project-driven,” he said, meaning “define the problems you solve as a series of digital products you create and build.”
To make the Lego Group more technical, Bhardwaj wants to focus on architecture and craft. “What’s the engineering craft you want to build world-class scalable systems?” he asks.
Of course, software engineers will play a big role, but the new digital employees will be supplemented by digital designers, product managers and technical program managers as the digital team grows.
Building a cloud-native technology infrastructure
All these ambitions will have to be underpinned by a strong digital architecture. Bhardwaj wants Lego to build systems that “can scale, operate 24/7, and be flexible, open and easy to connect.”
The company is building a new unified data platform and upgrading its infrastructure to be more flexible and cloud native† Starting with very little cloud usage 18 months ago, Lego today hosts 54% of workloads in the cloud, with an ambition to be 100% in the public cloud in the future.
“We’re going for the speed, responsiveness and flexibility that the cloud offers you,” said Bhardwaj.
Lego Group uses a wide variety of languages and frameworks, from Unity for some of its new consumer products to React for Lego.com and SAP ABAP for back office systems. “We have pretty much everything,” said Bhardwaj. “In the data platform, we use Scala and Python. Which is cool, we use these days. If you’re an engineer interested in a modern tech stack, you’ll find it here.”
Connecting to the Lego Story
Software and Lego have long gone together, as many engineers enjoy building physical models in their spare time while wanting to get away from their workstation.
“Everyone I interview has a Lego story,” Bhardwaj said. “There’s connective tissue with the brand there.”
Modular software components have long been on the market for their Lego-like utility that can “click” to other components. That idea now extends to how Lego builds its own software, through loosely coupled systems and extensive use of APIs.
“When I describe great architecture, it’s like Lego bricks, where we can build something, take it apart and rebuild something else relatively easily. That’s what we’re trying to create here,” Bhardwaj said.
Lego also expects its engineers to work in loosely coupled teams, with the autonomy to build features as needed.
“We want to build a culture of autonomous teams with freedom to solve problems the way they see fit,” Bhardwaj. “We are a playful company, with play anchored in what we do. That is a big part of our culture.”
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