By Charlotte Weston
Beginning in 2017, a special event has been happening during spring and summer at the Wellington Catalyst office. It’s called Lego Build Season and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Building Lego sets in the office.
“What we’ve got going here is a bit of a community where people are contributing their time and their skills to a shared goal, which in this case is building a large set,” says Chief Lego Officer and Catalyst Delivery Lead Sanjay D’Souza. Essentially it’s an open source project, but it’s somewhat more tangible than open source software. “It’s very visible what we’re doing and how much progress we’re making,” says Sanjay.
This year’s project is a large Star Dreadnought Eclipse, made up of over 10,000 pieces, requiring approximately 2,000 build steps. The set was contributed by Gregorio Narvaez, Catalyst’s Security Manager. Catalyst staff members can sign up for a 20 minute session up to twice a week during the build season, and Sanjay, along with fellow Lego enthusiast, Catalyst developer, and Chief Lego Engineer Liam Sharpe, are around to support those who contribute. “It helps people unwind,” Sanjay says. “I use the term mental yoga. Life’s tough, and here’s a few minutes where you can chill out.”
Liam Sharpe and Sanjay D'Souza with the (unfinished) Star Dreadnought Eclipse Lego set
The Lego Build Season started in 2017 when Toyworld was having a Labour weekend sale. Sanjay and a couple of other Catalyst Lego enthusiasts, jumped in the car and paid Toyworld a visit. “We went in there, looked around, and when I walked out the door I realised I’d somehow purchased this large set,” says Sanjay. “It was an original Lego super car, and it just fell into my lap, so I had to buy it. I thought it would make a great project so that kicked off the Lego Build Season.”
The following year they again went to Toyworld, and according to Sanjay, “another set fell in my lap,” which is an interesting way to shop. In 2019 Andrew Maguire, Senior Catalyst Technical Lead told Sanjay he had a lot of Lego in a bad state. A few days later Sanjay came into the office to find three huge boxes of Lego that Andrew had delivered. “I almost fainted,” Sanjay says, which may or may not be enthusiastic hyperbole. “Because in that box were sets that I wanted as a kid but my parents couldn’t afford.” That summer the Catalyst Lego builders reconstructed Andrew’s entire collection of 24 sets. “It was like 48 Christmas days in a row. It’s like you’ve just won the lottery every day. He had some of the greatest Lego sets that I could imagine.”
Andrew Maguire with the results of the 2019-2020 Lego Build Season
Sanjay’s enthusiasm for Lego began, as for many, at around the age or three or four. His neighbours in Singapore had a set, and he was captivated first by the Lego logo, and then by the blocks. A Creator set was the first Lego his parents bought him, and Sanjay remembers his mother saying “this is the last Lego set that we buy.” Lego was expensive in Singapore but his parents supported his interest with small Lego sets, and his collection grew to a little town. When his family moved to New Zealand his mother again said “no more Lego,” but – spoiler alert – there was more Lego.
Although he forgot about it during his teenage years, Sanjay came back to it when he worked at Wellington City Council. “I had free time on my hands and we had these news groups dedicated to a particular topic. I discovered a community of Lego enthusiasts and that rekindled my interest, and of course I had a bit more spending money at that point.”
The community around Lego, and especially the collaboration of the Catalyst Lego Build Season, aligns with the Catalyst open source ethos. “There’s a sense of satisfaction for those who are involved,” says Sanjay. “They’re playing a part in a much bigger project. And it’s fun!”
Some of the sets from the 2019-2020 Lego Build Season
“Someone asked me do you take pride in building this yourself and I say no, I take more pride in setting it up for other people. For me it’s more about creating the environment and letting people have fun,” says Sanjay, “and I gain so much from having conversations with people I cross paths with. I guess that’s part of the open source ethos, that you’re giving more than receiving.”