What I learned at the SDL Tridion MVP retreat: Sharing is Caring


All the way back in Febuary Ferbruary Febfruary the second month of this year, I wrote about how I’d been nominated for this really cool award, the SDL Tridion Most Valued Professional award. Also known as the Tridion MVP award. It was a really, really  cool honor to have been nominated, and I got all sorts of cool perks:

  • A really cool badge
  • Access to a super secret chat room
  • Invitations to special meetings, where we plot to take over the world discuss upcoming changes to SDL products

And, an invitation to Portugal.  This post is about that.

First, some thanks

Thank you SDL for having the awards. It is very cool and much appreciated. Also, a big thanks to Nuno Linhares, who is more affectionately called ‘knew know’ because of his king-Solomon-like wisdom of SDL’s web suite. Nuno is from Portugal, and I suspect there is a hidden bias about holding the retreat in Portugal because of this.

A much bigger, and more serious thanks goes to Carla Osorio, who acted as our host, event-planner, and  kitten-wrangler. Carla is missing her calling as an event planner because she did an amazing job at finding an awesome hotel, booking great restaurants, planning fun events, coordinating good tours — and wrangling us. MVPs can get distracted by shiny objects, bright lights, and things that make sound, so it’s hard to keep us in line, but she pulled it off.

The Location

The MVP retreat is held in a different place in Portugal every year. This year it was in Évora. And it was really cool.


Évora is a UNESCO world heritage site that serves as the capital of the Alentejo region of Portugal. It’s home to an ancient Roman Temple, an aqueduct, Pêra Manca wine,  a ton of really cool churches… and the Portuguese Inquisition.

building buildings

Developers are people who build things. So, it’s natural that you look at the buildings and their construction with a deep admiration of the laborers and architects — while simultaneously doubting the worth of project managers. Quite shockingly, the aqueduct pictured below got built without a single six-sigma-certified project manager. Not a one. amazing.

Aqueduct In Évora
Proof that waterfall development is in it for the long haul

One of the most fascinating things to me was the ancient sense of usability and user experience.

In Évora, all of the buildings are painted white (to keep things cool in the summers). This is a deeply profound sense of user-centric city planning.

But buildings aren’t painted completely white. They can have different colored trim. And the color of that trim has a strong design pattern that has developed, in part, out of tradition:

  • Gold  == good luck
  • Green == health
  • Dark blue ==keep away bad luck
  • Grey == death
The Winery should've changed their trim to diamonds after we showed up.
This winery should’ve changed their trim to diamonds after we showed up.

So, restaurants, stores, and hotels have gold trim (i.e. places where you want to buy things). Pharmacies and doctor’s offices have green trim. Banks and financial institutions have the blue trim (because they don’t want to get robbed). But what about the grey?

Me: [pointing at a building ] “So, what does the grey mean”

Tour Guide: “Grey symbolizes death”

Me: [noticing that the sign on the building reads ‘advogado’] “Well, it’s a lawyer’s office. So that makes sense”

Now, where this metropolitan color-coding scheme fails is when you go to the next city, where the colors have entirely different meanings. But, it’s very cool that there’s such a simple means by which to classify the environment.

Portugal in General

The language of Portugal is Portuguese —it is not drunk Spanish. If you can speak Spanish while sounding drunk, you’ll be mislead in believing that you can speak Portuguese. Do not be deceived, fair reader:  Portuguese has way more nasal sounds and incorrectly placed accent markings than Drunk Spanish.   Essentially,  Portuguese is to Spanish what Android is to Linux. It’s clear that someone forked the main branch, but you’re kidding yourself if you think it’s going to get merged back in any time soon.

The people were also proud to speak their language, which was different from other countries I visited this year…not that I want to knock the people of The Netherlands, but all of them speak English…a little too well. The Netherlands was the first country I ever visited where I didn’t bother to learn a single word of the language, and absolutely no one cared. Even when I tried to drop some Dutch phrases, they responded in English — good English, too. It’s like the Dutch are trying to show-off and prove that they can handle dynamically typed languages or something.

In Portugal, I was very happy that I’d spent the upcoming weeks working on my Portuguese. While the Portuguese people could speak English, it wasn’t their ‘goto’ language. Most of my conversations went like this:

Frank: [says something in Portuguese]

Shop Keeper: [responds in Portuguese]

Frank: “Eu não entendi. mais uma vez?” (I don’t understand, one more time)

Shop Keeper: [responds in Portuguese, slower]

Frank: “Sinto muito…” (I’m sorry…)

Shop Keeper: [responds in Portuguese, slowerer]

Frank: [explains in Drunk Spanish]

Shop Keeper: [responds in  Sober Spanish]

Frank: [confirms in Sober Spanish]

Could we have gone to English? Of course. But this is not how a language-nerd rolls.

The Day-to-Day Stuff

The itinerary for any given day looked like this:

this is what you get when you ask for kosher tomatoes
This is what you get when you ask for kosher tomatoes
  1. Eat a breakfast with as much bacon as God wills
  2. Morning session of talks, code, and talks
  3. Lunch with as much seafood as God wills
  4. Afternoon session of talks, code, and talks
  5. Dinner somewhere exotic, like a monastery or a convent
  6. Drinks at the hotel
  7. Everyone brings down the guitars and ukeleles
  8. Everyone who plays guitar plays a guitar
  9. Everyone who knows how to play songs keeps a guitar
  10. Someone feels bad and hands Frank the triangle
  11. Robert Curlette takes over triangle duties while Frank fetches another beer

One thing that varied from one night to the next was how long people continued playing music. Apparently there is a strong correlation between the duration with which you’ve played music, the loudness of that music, and the decreased likelihood of getting more drinks. As the likelihood of more drinks decreases, the loudness increases, until drinks get shut off. Then everything goes quiet. Folks breached  the Osorio-Inebriation Convergence around 3:30am.

On Saturday, we took the afternoon off, and people went go-karting.

Three guesses for where Yoshi, Bowser, and Luigi were
Not pictured: Yoshi, Luigi, Bowser


Go-karting was a great way to blow-off steam, have fun, turn your arms numb, and drive like an American at NASCAR tryouts in Europe. Despite what looked like invisible bananas being thrown on the track, no one died or suffered any life threatening injuries. As yet another sign that the US is no longer a global super power, a Russian-born Canadian won.

 TheSessions = Tridion + front-end

In previous years, the sessions were code-intensive. Not so this year; the schedule was much more lose, with more flexibility in discussion.

A good take-away for me is that front-end is going to become a really big deal in the world of Tridion. I need to elaborate on this in another post, but, rest-assured, front-end monkeys have a place at the Tridion table.

The Big Take-away

The retreat comprised of 20-ish people, coming from ten different countries who spoke 12-ish languages (excluding Drunk Spanish), each of whom wrote more Java, .NET, C#, VBScript, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, or PowerShell scripts than his peers. Some worked for SDL and were called “community builders”. Some worked as freelancers. Others worked for Tridion shops, others for digital marketing agencies. Some were classically-trained musicians, others were self taught, but played piano, guitar, ukelele, harmonica, and yes, even the damned triangle if you didn’t know how to play any songs other than that one Greenday song. We were about as diverse as 20 people could possibly be. But we had one thing in common: we shared our knowledge of Tridion.

If you are passionate about your craft— you don’t want to just punch a clock — if you want to write cool code that people will appreciate, then you need to share your passion. If you figured out a quirk, or a hidden feature: share it. If you have a thought about how to do something better, share it. If you just have a piece of code that you want to throw up, so that someone else can see it: share it.  If you have a passion for making Tridion better, you need to share it.

The MVP program isn’t an incentive to share, it’s a reward for those who do. So get blogging.