In October 2009 I got called into a meeting with our then- business unit CEO Jan-Jaap Kolleman (“JJ”) to discuss this “crazy idea” he had on his flight to California. What about creating a community award program, somewhat like the Microsoft MVP Program, but focused entirely on the Tridion Community?
I’ve always been a big knowledge sharing/community promoter within SDL, so he knew pretty well who he was asking this question to, and what reaction he’d get from me (as all good CEOs do). So after my effusive yes, my young-and-naïve-self failed to understand he had just been “trapped”. JJ continued: “Yeah, I agree it would be great, and think you’re just the right person to do it. I’ll be back in the US in six weeks, why don’t you take this time to prepare and show me a plan of how you would do it?”
The seed was launched that day. Hard to imagine now, but back then all we had in terms of “public-facing-properties” was the now defunct “Tridion forums”, a somewhat-active TridionWorld website and a bunch of individual blog sites created by people like myself, Dominic Cronin, Jeremy Grand-Scrutton and other “veterans”. Six weeks later I presented my plans for a community focused Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Program, one that would, above all, represent the community and not the software vendor – I was growing somewhat tired of “partner of the year” awards, which always tend to be linked to money.
When promoting community, the last thing you need is people that are given awards because of who they know. No, this had to be different. So we put a few different rules in place, first and foremost being the “Selection Panel” which is composed by a majority of non-SDL employees. Next, we made sure that everyone needed to be nominated publicly (no last minute awards driven by sales) via an email alias to my own email address which I used to filter “real” nominations from “shady” ones. Obviously, it never happened that I had to deny a candidate, but I am glad this was in place anyway.
Last, but not least, came the “award” itself. We nominated a bunch of people, we slapped a sticker on them “You’re an MVP”, and then?
This is where the MVP retreat concept was born!
Imagine if you could, for 48 hours, place all these incredibly passionate professionals in the same physical space, and let them freely debate what directions the community should move into, what solutions work and don’t, and what they perceive as the best path forward. Imagine also if we could do this in some incredible location. I did some math, came up with a rather modest but sufficient budget, and off we went.
Looking back at the first two events, the logistical nightmare was to do it all by myself (including booking flights, organizing taxis, booking hotels, etc) and the seamless logistics we have today, makes it look very amateurish. But man, was it worth it. As expected, putting these people together in the same room created a mini-singularity, an explosion of creativity from which many successful Tridion initiatives were born – from the Tridion Developer Summit to the Digital Experience Accelerator, to the Alchemy AppStore, many community projects that came into fruition in the past 8 years can trace their roots to a discussion had over incredible wine and some superb food at a SDL Tridion MVP Retreat.
Over the past 8 years we certainly had our share of fun at these events, and the energy we create every year is truly heart-warming to me. A bunch of hackers, with a strong shared passion, can go a long way if they work together.
So… obviously, this year was no exception and 22 Tridion Professionals packed their bags and travelled a significant number of miles to make their way to Lisbon Airport where they were received with open arms and a cold beer.
After a short ride to this year’s incredible location Pousada Conde de Ourem, where, after some check-in formalities, the MVPs were let loose. And they delivered. In the roughly 16 hours of work spent together, the MVPs delivered:
- A script to verify Experience Manager configurations
- Improvements to the open source “SDL Tridion Powershell Commandlets”
- A System Extension to allow localization of Page URLs without requiring to localize the page itself
- A “poor man’s” cloudwatch monitor for the Tridion Publishing Queue
Some of this content has started to trickle out – see blog posts by Tahzoo’s Frank Taylor on DXAJS, SDL’s Alvin Reyes on the projects discussed at the retreat, and Content Bloom’s Pankaj Gaur on the event itself. All I can say is that is both an honor and privilege to host this event every year, and I always come out of it with this immense calm feeling of a job well done. What a win-win symbiosis we have achieved here between SDL and the community.