The Danish plastic brick manufacturer Lego is rapidly expanding its software development teams to meet the growing demand for virtual experiences, such as the metaverse.
Lego is working to grow its software engineering teams to diversify from plastic bricks to bits and bytes, but can it compete with the big tech companies to attract top talent? The Danish company is investing heavily to become a more tech-based company, following the explosion in popularity of online brick building games like Roblox and Minecraft (Microsoft). Seeing the missed opportunity, Lego announced a partnership with video game maker Epic in April 2022. The two companies will team up to create experiences in the metaverse, blurring the lines between digital and physical building experiences.
“The collaboration with Epic is our journey into the metaverse and there is a lot of product to work on and a lot of technology to design on,” said Atul Bhardwaj, executive vice president and chief digital & technology officer at Lego. To seize these opportunities, Lego is looking to grow its in-house software engineering team, aiming to triple its IT team to 1,800 people by the end of 2023, split between offices in Copenhagen and Billund in Denmark, London. and Shanghai.
A digital transformation in Lego
To lead this transformation, Bhardwaj says he wants Legos to be more about product, engineering and architecture. “I see it as product driven rather than project driven,” he said, which means “defining the problems you solve as a set of digital products you create and build.” As for making the group more engineering-focused, Atul Bhardwaj wants to focus on architecture and crafts. “What is the engineering profession you want to establish to be able to design world-class scalable systems? ” he asks.
Atul Bhardwaj joined The Lego Group in November 2020 as executive vice president and chief digital & technology officer. He is responsible for the digital and technology teams of the Lego Group and oversees their digital transformation. (Credit: Lego Group)
Of course, software engineers will play an important role, but new IT recruits will be complemented by digital designers, product managers, and technical program managers as the digital team grows. All of these ambitions will need to be supported by a solid digital architecture. Atul Bhardwaj wants Lego to build systems that are “scalable, running 24/7, flexible, open and easy to connect”.
Build a cloud-native infrastructure
The company is building a unified data platform and upgrading its infrastructure to make it more flexible and cloud-native. Starting with very little cloud usage 18 months ago, Lego now hosts 54% of workloads in the cloud, with the ambition to be 100% in the public cloud in the future. “We are looking for the speed, responsiveness and flexibility that the cloud offers us,” said Bhardwaj.
The Lego Group uses a wide range of languages and frameworks, from Unity for some of the latest consumer products, to React for Lego.com, to SAP ABAP for back-office systems. “We have a little bit of everything,” said Atul Bhardwaj. “In the data platform we use Scala and Python. What is trendy today, we use it. If you are an engineer interested in a modern technology stack, you will find it here “.
A link with the history of the company
Software and Lego have gone hand in hand for a long time, as many engineers enjoy building physical models in their spare time, when trying to get away from their workstations. “Everyone I interview has a history of Lego,” Bhardwaj said. “There’s a connective tissue there with the mark.” Modular software components have long been marketed for their Lego-like utility that can “clip” onto other components. This idea now extends to the way the company creates its software itself, through loosely coupled systems and heavy use of APIs.
“When I describe a great architecture, it’s like Lego bricks, where you can build something, take it apart and rebuild something relatively easily. This is what we are trying to create here, ”said Mr. Bhardwaj. The toy company also expects its engineers to work in large-mesh teams, with the autonomy to create functionality as needed. “We want to create a culture with responsible teams who have the freedom to solve problems the way they want,” said Atul Bhardwaj. “We are a fun company, with play rooted in what we do. It’s an important part of our culture. “