Stock options are nice, but what many high-tech workers really love is Lego. The plastic toy has worked its way into the hearts, cubicles -- and even hiring contracts -- of New Economy employees.
A recent boom in sales of Lego to adults is bringing a smile to the faces of the people atLego Co., the Danish company that makes the interlocking plastic bricks.
"It's really exploded," Shannon Hartnett, a spokeswoman in the privately owned company's U.S. offices, said of adult sales. She said U.S. sales to this group are up close to 8 per cent from 1998, and nearly one in 10 Lego buyers is now a grownup, or what aficionados call AFOLs: Adult Friends of Lego.
The passion for Lego runs so strong among some in the high-tech sector in particular that a recruit for a Web-based Seattle company recently demanded -- and received -- a desk built entirely of Lego as part of his hiring contract.
It's no urban legend. Alabama-based programmer and Lego aficionado Eric Harshbarger recently completed the desk for shipping to the Seattle recruit. It can be viewed on his self-named dot.org Web site. He wouldn't reveal particulars of the order, but said the bricks alone cost $2,975, and the desk took three solid weeks to build and glue. Mr. Harshbarger, 29, said he believes the toy has a special appeal to high-tech workers, such as those who write software, because it's a physical mirror to the virtual work they do on computers.
"Computer work is all sort of in the ether, where you're knitting together code. Lego is the exact opposite. You can't get more tangible than these little plastic bricks."
His next project is a Lego rendering of the Mona Lisa for a Wisconsin man in the computer industry -- the sort of visitor you might find at , the Internet mecca for tech-savvy Lego lovers such as Canadian Andrew Jinks.
Mr. Jinks, a 31-year-old software programmer at Vancouver-based high-tech printing specialist Creo Products Inc., can name at least five people in his company's office alone who share his passion for Lego -- a hobby on which he's spent $1,000 in the past two years.
Like many AFOLs, Mr. Jinks's office cubicle is decorated with Lego creations, including Star Wars-themed ones -- the very Lego series that helped lure him and others back to the toy and out of his "Dark Ages," what lovers of the toy call the period between childhood and a return to Lego play.
Ms. Hartnett said what helped draw adults back to the toy was the recent Mindstorms series -- a higher-tech Lego product -- as well as the Star Wars series.
" Star Wars Lego is basically combining two of their favourite things from childhood," she says.
Mr. Jinks said he thinks the love high-tech folks have for Lego has something to do with the creativity and "childlike openness" to new ideas that those in the rapidly changing industry must retain in order to keep adapting.
"I think we have to change so much. You need to be a little childlike to learn something new every day. . . . [Lego]sort of keeps this creative aspect alive."
Randy Anchikoski, a Victoria-based programmer in his thirties, has more than 200,000 pieces of Lego, collected over nine years, that he shares with his four boys.
He said Lego fulfills the urge to show-and-tell one's creations. "[That's]not unlike software developers, in my experience," he said.
"I've discovered that there is a disproportionate number of software engineers who 'play well' with Lego. Let's face it, whether you are building software components or a Lego creation, it all comes from your creative pool . . . [and]you have to admit, sitting down with a pile of Lego is one heck of a satisfying thing."