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Fast Talk: Getting A (Second) Life

Chuck Hamilton is using Second Life to train new IBM hires. And he looks darned good in a kilt.

Fast Talk: Getting A (Second) Life

Chuck Hamilton

Director, Center For Advanced Learning, IBM
Vancouver, British Columbia

Hamilton (seen here as his Second Life avatar; he looks different in the real world), 46, heads an effort to train employees across IBM's businesses in virtual online worlds such as Second Life. Here, he explains how IBM will immerse thousands of new employees in company culture through its virtual doppelgänger.

"A year ago, we were talking about how to leverage play in the business: What could we use to extend our learning environment? Well, Second Life was popular, it was available, and we could use it to experiment. So we built a couple of islands and tried out experiences within them. One of the first was an online 'jam': We brought in people from around the world to discuss how they could use this 3-D space to their advantage. They came from India, China, Brazil, Russia. The island got very crowded.

That led us to the Fresh Blue project in China. If you're an intern, maybe just out of university, you want to learn all those basic things about our culture, and you want to connect with other people. So is there a way we can meet and not have to bring people together physically? We provide a virtual space in which to do that. The interns get up to speed quicker, and they meet people they wouldn't otherwise meet. And it's a very low-cost medium.

In the United States, we're using Second Life to create a mentoring community. So if you're interested in talking to somebody who has 25 years in the business, we've built a connection environment—a social-networking tool where you profile yourself, then meet in Second Life. We have multigenerational workforces, and this is a way to get together, virtually meet, and connect. We're seeing very senior IBMers swimming and flying next to people who have been in the business 10 months. The only thing I can tell you is, they seem pleased to be meeting this way."

A version of this article appeared in the February 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.