Dennis Andersen on a Decade at Refined

"Picked up" by Refined at a San Francisco cocktail bar 10 years ago, he's still going strong.

It’s 2011 and Dennis Andersen, a Master’s candidate at Lund University’s computer science program, is doing what countless 20-somethings before him have done: taking a road trip down the California coast. He’s in San Fran with a buddy, trying to wrap his head around the foggy microclimate, when he finds himself being…courted. 

Except it’s not a sun-kissed Californian in a red swimsuit doing the courting, as one might hope. Rather, it’s the duo that would become his employers back home in southern Sweden. 

“The story is they picked me up at a bar in San Francisco,” quips Dennis, Refined’s second hire and the longest-serving employee on record, with 10 years on the books. The aforementioned duo: Refined Co-Founders Emil Sjödin and Jimmy Lundström, who happened to be in town for Atlassian’s annual summit. Dennis’s travel buddy, who had done some consulting work for Emil and Jimmy, arranged to meet up with the pair and brought Dennis along.

At the time, Dennis wasn’t looking for work. But Emil and Jimmy needed more hands to grow RefinedWiki, as it was called at the time, and Dennis’s field of study fit the bill. “My friend sold me as this amazing programmer, quite overselling it, I should add,” he says. By the time drinks were over, he had agreed to swing by the office later that summer, “and the rest is history, as they say.”

A decade later, Dennis is the product manager for the Data Center team at Refined. He juggles an ambitious product roadmap with the real-world realities of software development, like making smart use of finite engineering resources, and solving the inevitable technical challenges that pop up. It’s his fourth role at Refined after working his way up from the developer position he started in.

We sat down with Dennis to pick his brain about what’s kept him at Refined for so long—and whether another decade is in the cards.

Dennis, at right, at Atlassian Summit 2013 in San Francisco.
Dennis, at right, at Atlassian Summit 2013 in San Francisco.

Refined: Today Refined is a site-builder for Confluence and Jira. But what was it when you joined in 2011?

Dennis: The main product was the RefinedWiki Original Theme for Confluence. Quite a mouthful. That’s the one that became Refined for Confluence later. But we also had a mobile interface app at that time. 

Refined: What was your first day like?

Dennis: When I came, they were still at a startup incubator and had their own little office. It was more like a closet in terms of size. I think they crammed a desk and a half in there. It barely housed the three of them. So when I got there as employee number four, yeah, there was no room for me. So I had to sit in the hallway with a borrowed laptop that Emil brought from his home. 

Refined: What was it like in the early years?

Dennis: It was mostly a lot of focusing on building up the features and scopes and everything, and figuring things out as we went along. We became this very tight-knit group. It kind of felt like you were in a band, because you met them every day and talked about everything. And then we went on tour to all these Atlassian events. It was a great time. And I felt very involved and very welcomed from the start.

Refined: What’s changed since you started 10 years ago? Obviously a lot, but if you had to name a few things.

Dennis:  I think we’ve outgrown four offices if we count the expansion of our new office. And we changed the name of the company. We’ve also launched several new products, changed the names of products, and even discontinued some.

Refined: And what’s stayed the same?

Dennis: The amazing people and the company culture. I think Refined as a company has done a great job of maintaining that. And what struck me early on, was how great the whole Atlassian ecosystem that we were integrating with has been. You felt immediately welcome during those first events, even though you were secretly quite lost in everything of course, and I think that has stayed the same as well.

Overall, Refined has always valued the employees. And that’s been a crucial part of the hiring process, that there’s a good culture fit and everything. So it still feels like you’re in this amazing band, but now it’s more of an orchestra.

It still feels like you're in this amazing band, but now it's more of an orchestra.

Refined: And then what about you? How have you grown over 10 years? What have you learned?

Dennis: I’ve learned a lot, I feel. I mean sure, I mostly stayed within my comfort zone, as a developer at heart. But being part of this small growing company has allowed me to be part of the entire development chain from concept or idea to implementation and shipping. And then even further, like standing face-to-face with customers and getting feedback on that very feature that you helped bring to life. 

But signing up as a developer, I didn’t expect to be giving these walk-through demos at events, or answering support tickets because there was no support department. And I think that has also allowed me to grow, seeing these other parts of the business and not just being down in the code swamp the entire time. That’s been really rewarding actually, and luckily today we have more talented people handling these different areas. 

Refined: So does that mean you’re in for another decade?

Dennis: Of course 10 years is quite a long time. And especially nowadays it’s very common to switch jobs and careers more often. But I’ve always felt quite at home with Refined and the people here. So it’s a pleasure to go to work, in a sense, every day. So I’m definitely in for another 10.

Refined: Any funny memories or anecdotes in the Refined lore that you want to share?

Dennis: Yes. A background on the whole Reine thing. (Note from Editor: Reine is an internal nickname for Refined.)

So in Sweden back in 2011 and the early days, I think “RefinedWiki” was perhaps not that well understood by the general population. So when we got mail, a lot of people got the company wrong. So at some point someone must have mistaken the company name and thought it was the name of a person. So it was addressed to Reine which I think is a French name, but in Scandinavia it’s also a male first name. So the concept of Reine’s Wiki, that this Reine person is maintaining it for himself, kind of stuck with us. And so that became like this joke where we started calling Refined “Reine” instead, laughing a bit, to the point that we named our rhino Reine, and our intranet Reine [and so on].

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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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