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Shapchat billboard
This mysterious Snapchat billboard along State Route 99 in Seattle launched our search for the company’s secret Seattle engineering office. (GeekWire File Photo)

A small team of Snapchat engineers has been working behind a locked door and fogged glass inside a Seattle co-working space for weeks — and no one had a clue, until now.

Even the other coders working on their own businesses down the hall weren’t aware that one of the hottest startups in tech had moved in just steps away.

GeekWire has learned Snapchat’s team is in a one-room office inside the SURF Incubator on the seventh floor of the Wells Fargo Center. It’s one of the only work spaces inside SURF with a lock on the door. That struck others in the incubator as odd, but the engineering outpost was otherwise hidden in a nondescript space that most people wouldn’t give a second look.

Snapchat Seattle
Inside Snapchat’s secret Seattle engineering outpost.

The only reason we were able to track it down was because one of the Seattle-based software engineers we thought might be working for the company took a sunset picture from an office window. He posted it to his snap story on Snapchat, and based on the view, we were able to figure out exactly where the photo was taken.

Yes, we were able to track down Snapchat’s own secret office through Snapchat. Meta, right?

The path that led us there was unexpected, but it underscores just how the messaging company is changing the information landscape. Yet again, a new breed of social media has exploded onto the scene, raising questions about how much we share about ourselves online.

It’s not easy to stay off the grid these days — a tough lesson that even Snapchat still needs to figure out, apparently.

GeekWire first started looking for the company’s Seattle office after a billboard popped up along State Route 99 two weeks ago. It seemed odd, and looking back we’re still not quite sure why a company going to such lengths to stay incognito would quite literally put up a billboard with nothing but its logo.

A quick LinkedIn search revealed at least 12 longtime Seattleites had gone to work for the Venice, Calif.-based company this year, seven of which made the switch during the past four months. They came from the top tech companies already here like Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Hulu and Google. This kind of poaching would be exactly the point behind opening an engineering outpost in Seattle — to tap into the local talent pool.

Our breakthrough came after we identified one particular software engineer on LinkedIn. With his name, we could then find him on Twitter. On Twitter he had recently posted one of Snapchat’s new “Snapcodes,” basically a QR-code-embedded photo that lets people find and follow your Snapchat account.

So I knew I had the Snapchat account for one of the company’s Seattle workers. I tapped add — and the waiting game began.

Later that night the worker added the sunset photo to his story — a running list of posts that Snapchat users decide to make public to all their followers. I recognized a courtyard in the photo and knew it had to have been taken from inside the Wells Fargo Center.

After wandering a few floors and running into a couple dead ends, I was able to narrow down the angle, and eventually recreate the photo almost exactly.

The Snapchat employee's original photo (right) and my photo taken from the same angle (left).
The Snapchat employee’s original photo (right) and my photo taken from the same angle (left).

When I did, I found myself standing in the cafeteria of SURF Incubator.

The co-working space offers flexible leases for smaller teams — an ideal situation for an out-of-town company looking to get things rolling here.

Eventually the employee I had been following on Snapchat walked past me in the hall and into a tucked-away office.

The door to Snapchat's Seattle engineering outpost.
The door to Snapchat’s Seattle engineering outpost.

There was a small team in the room, with just a handful of workers with bright yellow desktop backgrounds — one of the first signs that I was in the right place. As for Snapchat’s signature ghost logo, there was only one small cutout between a couple of the desks. Otherwise, there were no obvious markings.

Snapchat cutout in the the office.
Snapchat cutout in the the Seattle office.

I was able to confirm it was Snapchat after I knocked on the door, but workers there declined to comment any further. They said the company’s press team had a timeline they were working on for an official announcement, so everything would have to go through them.

Snapchat’s corporate office has not responded to several requests for comment for this story.

From what GeekWire was able to gather, Snapchat does have more permanent plans for the Seattle area, but the company decided to set up shop inside the SURF Incubator while it figured everything out.

LinkedIn indicates Snapchat has recently hired about a dozen people in Seattle. Those workers are mostly software engineers, but there’s also a director of broadcast, product solution manager and a technical lead. The office we saw didn’t have room for more than a handful of people, and LinkedIn can really only be used for rough headcount estimates. So it’s still unclear the exact size of Snapchat’s local presence.

The discovery makes the company just the latest to come here in search of engineering talent, joining the ranks of companies like Apple, Alibaba, Uber and Best Buy.

While other companies may be larger and more powerful, none are as trendy as Snapchat.

The company’s numbers are pretty impressive, as the 4-year-old startup is said to be worth $16 billion. It has hundreds of millions of active users, including 60 percent of all 13- to 34-year-old smartphone owners. The company estimates about 4 billion videos will be viewed on Snapchat today. For comparison, there are 7 billion people in the world.

Fast Company posted an in-depth look at Snapchat today for its November issue, detailing how the platform has captured the attention of millennials like none other and is changing the media landscape.

“If you still think Snapchat, a company valued at $16 billion, is just a teen sexting app, you’re not listening to the kids, bro,” the article concluded.

Snapchat is now part of the Seattle tech scene, and we don’t expect to see the company go anywhere anytime soon. But as for the office we uncovered, who knows? Now that we’ve seen it, it could disappear any second now.

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