Interview a LEGO Employee

Do you like playing with LEGO bricks or playing LEGO games? Have you ever wondered what kinds of people it takes to make the LEGO world go ’round?

I spoke to a guy who has been a LEGO fan for nearly his entire life and now gets to work for LEGO! Tim Courtney was able to tell me a little about his own job at LEGO.

Working for LEGO

V.K. Finnish: What department do you work for at LEGO?
Tim Courtney: I work in both the New Business Group and the Community Engagement & Events teams at LEGO. New Business Group is basically an innovation lab for new kinds of LEGO products and new LEGO experiences that are non-traditional. For example, mobile apps that let you play with your physical LEGO bricks too, like LEGO Life of George. The LEGO Architecture series is another example of something our group has worked to put out.

VKF: What is your job?
TC: I am involved in our Community Business area. I work on a website called LEGO CUUSOO (pronounced “koo-so”). It’s a site that lets LEGO fans around the world submit their ideas for future LEGO sets so people can vote on them. Then we review the entries that get the most votes and decide if we are going to make them. So, I help people’s LEGO wishes come true!

VKF: Do you have to travel?
TC: Yes. I live in Chicago, and work at home in my apartment. I go to the LEGO headquarters in Denmark quite a bit, and stay for 3-4 weeks at a time. Fortunately for me, almost everyone speaks English in Denmark. I also attend conventions and meetings around the world, so I travel quite a bit.

VKF: What’s a normal work day like for you?
TC:I do all the communications that you see around LEGO CUUSOO. What that means on a day-to-day basis is … I check the site for things like what are people submitting — to make sure it follows all our rules, see if it’s appropriate and fits what types of submissions we allow. Sometimes I do a little bit of moderating the comments, too. But the majority of my time is spent on bigger pieces of communication — writing content for the site and the blog, design of the site to better the users’ experience. I also travel to a few LEGO fan community events each year and keep them updated on developments related to LEGO CUUSOO.

VKF: What kind of training did you need to get this job?
TC: I have a college degree in Organizational Communication (which is a business and communication degree combined — it’s the people-side of business). I have a lot of experience from different jobs I did before this, including PR, marketing, customer service, and sales in web hosting and development companies, as well as hosting conferences and events.

VKF: How did you get your start at LEGO?
TC: When I was in high school and college, lots of grownups formed communities online to discuss LEGO ideas and talk about LEGO news. I was involved in some of these as a hobby, because I really liked LEGO. I even got into a CAD drawing community called LDraw, which focused on LEGO. I worked with that group for about eight years. In 2011, an opportunity came up for me to work at LEGO when they started LEGO CUUSOO as a way to “crowdsource” fans’ ideas for new products. It was a perfect fit for me.

VKF: What are some misconceptions you get from people when you tell them where you work?
TC: Well, for starters, I don’t drive a LEGO car or live in a LEGO house. I don’t play with LEGO bricks all day long; although, when I go to the office there are LEGO bins of parts and stuff and I can build if I want to even though I’m not a model designer.
  Another misconception is that it’s an easy job; it’s actually hard work! Because I’m passionate about what I do, it makes it easier, but it’s still a job. Also, I do a lot of traveling. Some people think its all fun because I go to cool events and meet awesome people. But it’s all part of the responsibilities and it’s not all glamor. It is fun and rewarding though! Because I travel so much, personal life is a bit difficult: it’s like I have two lives, with friends in Denmark and friends in the US.

A Fan’s Dream

VKF: Talk a little about LEGO CUUSOO.
TC: First of all, it’s important to note that LEGO CUUSOO is designed for our older builders. You need to be 13 or older to have an account, and at least 18 to submit ideas. The website is for LEGO fans who have their own ideas for sets they’d like to see us release as a product. People can browse the site and vote for your idea, and after your idea gets a certain number of votes, my coworkers review it, and might choose to make it into an actual LEGO set. As the builder, you’ll get credited for the idea and receive a royalty of sales. An example of this is the LEGO Minecraft set that has come out. That started out as a fan submission on LEGO CUUSOO in December 2011.
  Here’s the basic life cycle of the LEGO CUUSOO submission:

  • 1. You submit your own idea for a LEGO set.
  • 2. We say, “Does it fit the rules (is it too violent? does it fit our quality standards?); if it’s all good, we post it.
  • 3. It collects votes from other fans on the site, trying to make it up to 10,000 votes.
  • 4. Four times a year, we look at all the ideas that reached 10,000 in that particular quarter and review them; they get looked at individually.
  • 5. The best product that fits the criteria (there’s a market for it, it’s actually designable and sellable) gets chosen to be made into a real LEGO set.
  •   LEGO CUUSOO has been an outstanding success. The global site started October of 2011. We’d never done this kind of thing before, and there are sometimes some crazy ideas out there–we don’t know if we can do them, but it’s great these ideas can be submitted. We’re learning lessons about this new process and how we can make these new ideas happen.

    VKF: Now for the fun part, let’s get to know a little about you, Tim! Have you always liked playing with LEGO bricks?
    TC: Yes. I got my first set when I was probably 5 or 6 years old. It was a semi truck with a flatbed trailer and a helicopter on the back. My obsession just exploded from there; I had a town set up, a fire station, a police station, space ships — Blacktrons and M:Trons. My best friend and I built an entire LEGO Space universe and storyline around those.

    VKF: So is working for LEGO your dream job?
    TC: Yes. I never in a million years thought this would be a reality. What little boy doesn’t grow up wanting to work for LEGO? It was something I always told myself, “If the right opportunity for me comes up there, I’ll do it.” Fortunately the right thing came along!

    VKF: What’s the best part of your job?
    TC: The very best part is knowing the work I do helps our fans realize their own dreams of having their ideas turned into real LEGO sets.

    VKF: What’s one of the most frustrating or difficult parts of your job?
    TC: I communicate with the whole world about what’s going on with LEGO CUUSOO and the fan ideas they have voted on to become products. That means I work with a lot of people within the company who are responsible for making these products happen. Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions and I ‘m the guy who tells our fans and the public that we aren’t going to produce an idea that they really want. It’s never easy to disappoint people.

    VKF: You were such a LEGO fan in college that you worked with some other people to put out a book to help guide people who wanted to draw and plan out models in special drawing software. Tell me about that project.
    TC: My book is called Virtual LEGO. I wrote it almost ten years ago. It’s a guide on how to use LDraw software to create your own 3D LEGO models and instructions on your computer. LDraw is a system of computer programs and 3D LEGO parts that fans used in the early days of the Internet to share their LEGO designs with each other. Today the LEGO Company has their own LEGO CAD tool called LEGO Digital Designer, which also does the same thing.

    VKF: As you might know from my book The Society’s Traitor, a “Fetch” is an animal companion that is linked to you and completely loyal to you. If you could have a Fetch, what would it be?
    TC: I’m going to go with a fox. The work I’m doing is really new. Companies like LEGO haven’t really taken in fans’ ideas and produced them in this way before, so there is no right or wrong way to do it. My teammates and I need to be really adept at figuring out our environment and making the right decisions. Foxes seem pretty adaptable to whatever situation they are in.

    Thanks to Tim Courtney for giving us a taste of what it’s like working in community business and sharing his path in getting his childhood dream job — working for LEGO!

    If you are 13 years old or older, feel free to check out where you can participate, and vote on LEGO fans’ models. And if you’re over 18, you can submit your own ideas! 

    1 Comment

    • comment-avatar
      Avery January 14, 2013 (6:22 pm)

      Howya, VK

      Totally cool that you can submit your lego ideas. I am totally doing that when I am 18. Hope we can blog again.

      Your friend,
      Avery 😎