Character Encodings with Tridion

This is probably a bigger subject to tackle in a single blog post, but I wanted to suggest the following if you ever run into a "strange character" or "my language looks wrong" problem with Tridion or any other content management system.
The correct Pavlovian response to character issues is to diligently search for any mismatched character encoding settings.

Troubleshooting Encoding Issues

Start with the source content (database, Word, text file) and work your way through the Content Management Explorer (CME), including schema filters and templates, then through the deployer, databases, presentation servers, databases and all the settings in between. Both Java and ASP.NET have global and page settings to confirm as well.

As a general guide to find all these settings, do an online search for {technology} + character encoding to find where to check for your given technology stack. Then check database settings with your DBA, web server settings with your development or design team, and Tridion settings with your implementation partner, developers, or support. Better yet, follow your content to determine where the issue happens and narrow down this long chain from authoring to presentation!

Midas Rule of Open Source Projects

You may be familiar with the Golden Rule, where we treat others how we want to be treated?

Or maybe the Petroleum Rule, where we treat others how they deserve? Yes, like petrol it's crude by valuable.

How about a new one, the Midas Rule of volunteer work and Open Source projects?


King Midas loved gold so much that he wished everything he touched would turn into gold. He got his wish but sadly... he got his wish and everything he touched would turn into gold. The fable had a useful lesson about greed and being careful for what you wish for, but I'm going to toss those parts aside and focus on the "ooh, you touched it" part.

The Midas Rule:

Whoever touches something first (takes initiative) and cares the most gets to decide what to do with it.
In other words, "yes you can, but you have to do the work." It's similar to licking or touching your sandwich so the other kids don't try to take your food. "Eww, you touched it!" Note this refers to actually poking, working on, and contributing to something beyond thinking or talking about it.

Tridion Schema Change

Someone has probably warned you to be careful when updating Tridion schema (the basic Tridion item that defines fields for Tridion components). So, what really happens after you update a Tridion schema?

First of all, be very careful when updating schema as this could potentially wipe out existing content.

These are relatively safe:
  • add a new field
  • update description on exsiting field
  • change display type between radio, drop-down, or text select (might want to test this first)
  • add additional options (or add keywords to a category used by a text field)
  • change xml name of a field or root
  • change a schema namespace
  • changing mandatory options (semi-dangerous, this may cause validation issues as well as confuse editors)
  • change options (old existing selections will not change, except for keywords, at least with Tridion 2011)
If you don't have any components, then feel free to change away! However, once you have content (components based on said schema), a change will have the following affect.

None. No effect on content... yet!

BlueBrinting Fridge Magnet Kit

Software developers and system architects love to draw boxes for servers, environments, classes, or to explain the system/software development life cycle. For Tridion functionality, the BluePrint design is a crucial step and prerequisite to implementation.

Feel free to use or improve on the following in your next Tridion BluePrinting session, workshop, or discussion.

Update (8-Dec-2011): I loaded a picture of the first prototype. Pros: visual and movable pieces. Cons: magnets are too strong to easily move the parts, labels are paper (not re-usable), and the background is too small for larger arrangements. Next version should have smaller magnets or a bigger board along with re-usable, more sturdy labels (or magnets you can write on).

Hating your Software?

I've supported internal users and developers in using SDL Tridion, a Web Content Management solution. I'd also occasionally answer questions on systems or software I was familiar with as well.

Ever have a problem, issue, or frustration with some data or process with your organization's computer system, external vendor, or other service?

I've helped end users realize the first steps start with the end-using expert themselves.

Is that problem...

  • Repeatable?
  • Involve only certain items?
  • Occurring during certain times?
  • Related to certain users?
Help Your Geek
If you can narrow the issue down to a specific item, file, format, user, or computer you have a possible workaround or at least a better understanding of where the problem is.

At any time through this process it feels like more work than it's worth, reach out to your nearest systems geek, service desk, or power user. Many are glad to help; it works best when you've made a good effort on your own and can describe the steps to reproduce the problem.

Otherwise get a screen shot and details to your IT department, your second level of help. There are additional layers of formal and informal levels of escalation. Even Twitter. :-)

Your organization invested in a solution for collaboration, WCMS, purchasing, eCommerce, or fill-in-the-blank. It's worth the time to ensure you can at least do your work.

Knowledge with some of these software packages is growing in importance in the market. Power users are needed for large scale software like SAP or SharePoint. The market is also good if you can find a leading package in the WCM, WFM (Workforce Management), or other large software with a smaller market.

In other words, there are likely companies with possibly smoother running systems paying well for your skills or familiarity with a particular package.


Having struggling users is a good sign for software purchasers because it means the system is being used and can be improved. It means there are enough implementations out there to have some good and bad ones.

Negative buzz is even good for the software vendors because it can highlight weaknesses in the product, confirm people are using the software (I worry when I don't hear anything), and frankly increase publicity for your solution. Any feedback is valuable, though more constructive comments can help you fix issues. Congrats, if you have a "I hate you" group, perhaps you're approaching Coke vs Pepsi or Microsoft vs Linux/Unix/Mac notoriety.

And for third-party partners and consultants, visibility into issues can be an opportunity to help. A blatant response would be to attempt to sell services to a company based on its end-user complaints. A more nuanced approach could be offering information, examples, and shared knowledge to the software development community. Addressing user concerns can go a long way towards filtering good will and establishing your credibility.

Don't settle...

"Enterprise software" ranges in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Actual ERP can reach seven figures. With support costs typically running a fraction of the original license purchase, this means the annual support costs for that software might rival salaries of employees. A system never replaces everyone--it always includes processes, technology, and people.

But if a user hates a particular solution, by all means he or she should be able to make the case to management to replace the solution or improve it.

When all else is fails, the user can do it the old, possibly manual, way.

If Tridion's causing your ire and it's not a problem with your organization's setup, consider sharing a suggestion on the SDL Tridion Ideas site, where you can post and vote for ideas (open to Tridion users with an email).

Joining the SDL Tridion Community

At the SDL Tridion MVP 2011 retreat I had a chance to meet and collaborate with some of the top sharers in the SDL Tridion community. I felt like the "bee girl" from Blind Melon's No Rain video in what it's been like sharing my enthusiasm for Web Content Management. Watch from 1 minute 56 seconds for the reveal.

Fellow award winners Julian Wraith and Jeremy Grand-Scrutton have also blogged about the productive work, a flight "incident," and new friendships developed at the recent retreat.

Send-off to Fellow Graduates

Edit: clarified I was not selected to give a speech by emphasizing the "not" and the "proposed."

I was not selected to give the commencement speech for my University of Phoenix graduation ceremony. Rather than feeling bad about it, I'll do the next best thing and blog about it! Congratulations to my fellow Bachelor of Science in Information Technology graduates.

Proposed Speech

Greetings fellow graduates, faculty, family, and friends.

I have a confession. I came to University of Phoenix (UOPX) already with a job in IT, but I did not know the difference between IT, an Information Technology and IS, an Information System.

I've since learned An information system consists of:
Processes, and

So let me end my two years as a University of Phoenix undergraduate by describing an education program involving:
People (me, the facilitators, and you)
A process of change, teams, and projects
And technology that includes the OLS (online learning system), lots of PowerPoint, plenty of Word documents, and more email than I want to remember.

People, process, technology

For myself, I came here to get in, get out, and maybe learn something. I came here so that my former-baby-but-now-inquisitive 3 year-old won't have an excuse not to go to college. I came here to show up my father, who with 20-years of service in the Navy went back and got two degrees and a new career in the time it took me to even sign up for Phoenix.

"Get in. Get out. Learn something." That was a simple goal that turned into something much grander because I was surprised by the people.

People like our facilitators. Their real-world industry experience surprised me. Where else can you ask 6 working professionals a question like, "so… how do you approach project management? How about that software development life cycle? What do you do when your coworkers annoy you in a corporate environment?"

My classmates surprised me. A very few in a bad way (for example, if you're going to copy someone else's work, be sure to change that name in the paper or Java program to match yours before posting it on OLS.

But for those of us that struggled and put in the effort and relied on each other, our facilitators, our advisors, and on the occasional YouTube video showing how to write a basic Java program… we've earned it. We'll be a bit more prepared because we put in the time and effort.

Let me describe an education involving people, process, and technology.

Part of the process was giving yourself permission to do something right for yourself. If you're like me, this degree has been a long time coming. If you're like me, you have your friends and family out there cheering you on.

If you've been embarrassed at not having a degree like me, maybe you're here just for yourself. And that's okay.

But the shame, hesitation, and guilt for not having a degree is not okay though. To get this far, we had to give ourselves permission to take a chance, to change our habits, to follow all the way through to today. You had nothing to prove, but you now have more skills than you realize.

The University of Phoenix education process is all about team-based projects and the constant back and forth feedback in class, on OLS, and between team members.

I hope you've learned to love and hate that feedback from your facilitator or from your peers--because it's how we grow. In the absence of hopefully constructive feedback, we won't know what's wrong or right with our writing, our thought processes, or project approach.

Feedback improves us as people.

You have people, process, and technology skills.

You have completed at least 20, 5-week projects covering a range of topics you may never have heard of before. You presented at least dozens of times over a few years on broad and in-depth industry topics, using Word, PowerPoint, OLS over and over again.

You can see the hanging-indent APA 6 reference format when you close your eyes at night!

In job interviews, when you ask for your next promotion or raise, or when you wonder if this was all worth it, remember your 2 plus years of project experience, immersed in a collaborative environment, working with and against your peers and facilitators.

When we get out there with these degrees it will be all about the people. We've done this for ourselves, for our family, to prove something, or because we have nothing to lose and only student loan debt to gain. Embrace the fact that you did this.

Diverse people, a tough process, and new technology. Don't doubt and think you can't change the World, you've changed yourselves, and that's a pretty good start.


Alvin Reyes restarted his educational career plans with University of Phoenix's Bachelor's of Science in Information Technology (Business Systems Analysis) program in 2009 to learn how to become a "real" Business Analyst. Wanting to finish a degree he started over a decade ago, he hoped to make his family proud and wanted to deny his then infant daughter any excuse to skip college.

College has rekindled his interest in public speaking, improved his writing skills, and gave him an opportunity to connect with other motivated, working professionals.

He has since won a local Toastmasters area speech contest and contributed enough online to be recognized as an "SDL Tridion MVP" by SDL, a leading Web content management software company. He also attributes two promotions and a more comprehensive understanding of project management, information systems, and IT to his experience with the program.

He has enjoyed learning from (and challenging) his classmates and the UOPX facilitators. He looks forward to continuing to help others understand projects and technology as he improves his leadership and communication skills. Find him online at

Update: the actual diploma arrived the weekend of Halloween and the graduation images shortly after.