Jobs to Thrill Your Inner Child: A Life of LEGO

Peter Pan Syndrome is a real thing, and our cultural zeitgeist is rife with both fictional and nonfictional examples of the pop psychology concept of puer aeternus: essentially, people who’d prefer not to grow up. While perpetual adolescence is fundamentally problematic in many real-life scenarios, there are some who have figured out how to channel their youthful sensibility into their careers in both interesting, and in some cases, remarkably profitable ways. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the world’s most unique, real-life jobs with the power to thrill your inner child, and will be rolling out in-depth profiles on each occupation, ranging from the earning potential of a professional Ice Cream Taster, to the job skills required of a Human Hedge. Read on to learn the nuts and bolts of the first career up on the list: “LEGO Professor / LEGO Builder,” and be sure to check back for new profiles in the coming weeks!

LEGO Butterfly

(A monarch butterfly constructed entirely of LEGOs by LEGO Certified Professional, Sean Kenney. Photo Credit: Carol VanHook/Flickr)

LEGO Professor / Master Builder / Certified Professional

LEGO, which translates to “leg godt,” or “play well,” in Danish, is the toy equivalent of a youthful spirit, both for the kids around the world who have been interlocking the toymaker’s bricks into imaginative creations for more than 80 years, as well as the employees responsible for producing them.

Founded as a small carpenter’s workshop in Denmark in 1932, LEGO is currently the largest toy company in the world (followed by Mattel). As of 2014, the (still family-run) company, which is best known for its iconic plastic brick, had produced 560 billion parts since the brick’s inception in 1958. 

Although the company reported 28.6 billion kr in revenue (roughly $3,352,203,140 in American dollars) and 12,582 full-time employees in 2014, when it comes to creative and design-based roles at LEGO, positions are limited, turnover is scarce, and competition is fierce. Here’s a rundown of some of the most noteworthy avenues of employment available to real-life, grown-up brick layers.

Professor of LEGO

Cambridge University recently received $6M in funding from the LEGO Foundation, a portion of which (roughly $4M) is earmarked for “a LEGO Professorship of Play in Education, Development, and Learning,” according to the Cambridge University Reporter.

A University-appointed board of electors will select the lucky educator, whose role will include working at the school’s new “Research Centre on Play in Education, Development and Learning” beginning in October 2015. The eligibility requirements for the professorship are vague (“candidature should be open to all those whose work falls within the general field of the title of the office”), but strong candidates would presumably have a background in child psychology or development, and, of course, a deep-seated passion for miniature plastic bricks. 

LEGO Master Builder

The dream job of precocious plastic brick-laying children around the world, becoming a LEGO Master Builder requires “years of practice” and a heady set of charges that include creating “large-scale LEGO models that will surprise and amaze us,” “demonstrat[ing] the unlimited potential that lies in any given pile of LEGO bricks,” and illustrating “how creative imagination can transform any medium into a true work of art.”

LEGO employs two types of Master Builders: one group designs LEGO sets at the company’s Denmark headquarters. The second group, which is scattered across the globe, designs and constructs the mind-boggling models and sculptures for LEGO Discovery Center stores and LEGOLAND theme parks in Denmark, Dubai, England, Germany, Malaysia, Florida, and California. 

The career path to Master Builder can be long and winding and usually begins with a role as an apprentice builder or “glue minion,” who works long hours adhering thousands of LEGOs together and up-keeping massive sculptures and exhibits for around $10 an hour, according to Zachary Crockett, author of Life as a Lego Professional. A gifted young builder can eventually rise to senior builder, at which time the scope of his or her responsibilities would increase to include constructing models and shadowing Master Builders.

How Much Do LEGO Jobs Pay?

For those who make it to the end of the LEGO brick road, estimated compensation is modest: a sample salary for a master builder was $37,500 a year in 2011, and a job description for a LEGO Master Model Builder at LEGOLAND Florida listed compensation as $12/hour. 

In spite of the unimpressive pay, competition is stiff. A dynamic LEGO building portfolio is a given. LEGO looks for “someone with flair who has the ability to create a wide range of models.” Though applicants technically need only a high school diploma (or equivalent), attractive candidates reportedly have a college degree in architecture or design, or mechanical, aeronautical, or structural engineering. A background in 3D modeling and experience working in Maya, 3ds, AutoCAD, and SolidWorks, also don’t hurt. 

“There is an interesting exam process, part of which involves building a sphere,” Master Builder (and LEGO Certified professional) Nathan Sawaya, a former Wall Street lawyer, a told Tested of the application process. “[S]o during the exam, what happened was, they gave me a pile of bricks and 45 minutes, and said ‘Build a sphere.'”

Once constructed, the sphere had to be functional in order to move on in the exam process: “The next part was to take that sphere and roll it across the floor,” Sawaya explained. “And if it rolled properly, you move on. If it just kind of goes off to the side, you’ve likely built a cube. It’s important that it actually rolled.”

Twenty-four-year-old Andrew Johnson, reportedly the youngest Master Builder in the company’s history at the time he was hired, got the job after a three-round interview process in which the DePaul University History grad was required to build a Picasso sculpture, a 20-brick version of Dr. Seuss’ Lorax, a violin, and a harmonica. While there are no Master Builder positions currently listed on LEGO’s site, there is an opening for a Model Builder, which can be a gateway position to Master Builder, at the LEGO Discovery Center in Chicago. 

(“With LEGO there’s truly no limit to how many ways a problem can be solved.” Video interview submission for Master Builder Andrew Johnson / Video Credit: Andrew Johnson/YouTube)

Some Master Builders have found other ways through the door. In 2011, Cal Walsh, 24 (at the time he was hired), landed the job by designing, among other things, a spaceship, a tennis shoe, and a unicycle that spelled out his first name during a two-day LEGO-hosted competition. Walsh graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

Another potential point of entry is the LEGO MBA, or “Master Builder Academy” program, which is taught by Master Builders and equips graduates with the “skills, design secrets, and advanced building techniques used by the pros.” LEGO is careful to warn that attending the MBA doesn’t guarantee employment, but there’s no way that interacting with the current brick masters could hurt a gifted builder’s chances for getting on the company’s radar. 

One More LEGO Job: LEGO Certified Professional

Another possible avenue to a life of LEGOs is acceptance into the coveted legion of “LEGO Certified Professionals,” LEGO hobbyists who are not technically employed by the company, but are “officially recognized by the LEGO Group as trusted business partners.” Essentially freelance LEGO artists, LCPs are endorsed by LEGO and given the opportunity to buy bricks in bulk in exchange for granting LEGO rights to show off their creations.

There are only 13 LCPs currently on the company’s roster (interestingly, only one woman made the cut), and positions are actually more sought after by some than those of Master Builders, who have even been known to use their role as a springboard to become an LCP. In addition to more creative freedom, LCPs can earn more money making custom sculpture commissions for private clients and corporations than they could from a Master Builder salary. LCP/Master Builder Nathan Sawaya charges between $2,000 to $100,000 for commissions. Fellow LCP Dirk Denoyelle, a former stand-up comedian, once made a custom village for a client for $20,000.

(A sculpture by LCP/Master Builder Nathan Sawaya, from his solo exhibit “The Art of the Brick” | Photo Credit: Yzukerman/Flickr)

(LEGO Gaga! Nathan Sawaya used yellow LEGO bricks to construct the headless torso bodysuit worn by Lady Gaga in the video for “G.U.Y.” | “Lady Gaga – G.U.Y. – An ARTPOP Film” | Video Credit: LadyGagaVevo/YouTube)

The LCP selection process isn’t publicized, but LCP and former Master Builder Sean Kenney, who is responsible for broaching the LCP concept to LEGO, and now counts Mazda and Google as clients, told Priceonomics that though there’s no “standard process,” roughly a quarter of LCPs started out as Master Builders. If you prefer to go a more straightforward route and apply to become an LCP directly, there are no current openings, but LEGO recommends checking its website for new listings toward the beginning of 2016.

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