From crude, taped-on, hand-written signs appearing on a door in 2007 where Google replaced the name Skia to today with a new posh headquarters, the tech giant has continued to grow an office in Chapel Hill that most people today still know little about.

As Google continues to evolve as an Internet and technology colossus, a David of sorts continues to grow in the home of UNC where some of its most important cutting-edge knowledge is being developed by a team of engineers.

In an exclusive, meet the team leader – Mike Reed – and find out why Google is investing in its Triangle operation.

The backstory

Google’s history in Chapel Hill begins with the arrival of Mike Reed as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill who launched a mobile software firm called Skia.

“My history in Chapel Hill goes back 20 years to when I started my Masters work right across the street at UNC,” says Reed, whose official title is Principal Engineer and Site Lead for the Chapel Hill office.

“I fell in love with the area and after a few different stops around the country ended up back in Chapel Hill where I launched Skia in 2004. Skia was acquired by Google shortly thereafter and our technology helped launch products like Android and Chrome.”

News of Google’s arrival in Chapel Hill finally emerged in early 2007 when a reporter for noticed the Google signs in an obscure office downtown. Google had just announced its commitment to build a huge data center in Lenoir, and that news included a mention of the Google operation.

“True to its Greek word for ‘shadow’ name, a Chapel Hill-based software firm once known as Skia has served as the shadowy launch pad for Google operations in North Carolina,” WTW reported at the time.

“Google operates an office in the Franklin Centre in Chapel Hill with a five-person software operation. Mum is the word, however, when the question is asked about what the group is developing.

“We’re not able to say much,” Reed said at that time. Asked what he and the other folks are doing, he said simply, “Just engineering.”

Skia had described itself as “graphics software fanatics.”

Now at 40 people – and growing

Over the past decade, the Reed-led operation has continued to grow in size and in importance to Google, which continues to grow more focused on mobile software and services.

Google recently celebrated the move into the new office, which includes a huge work of art featuring the Google logo emblazoned across North Carolina. And as part of Google’s annual I/O tech show, Lee put on a demonstration at UNC’s Morehead Planetarium.

However, Reed still doesn’t go into much detail about what he and his team do/

“What is the focus of your operation?”

“Google’s Chapel Hill office is focused primarily on engineering,” he replies.

Growth factors

What Reed will discuss is why Google’s engineering team continues to grow – and why Google likes having an operation in the Triangle.

“Google is growing and constantly iterating existing products and adding new ones like what we saw last week at Google I/O,” he says.

“To provide the engineering backbone for these products, Google has to recruit the best and brightest engineers from across the country and around the globe.”

And the Triangle is prime recruiting territory.

“We’ve found the talent coming out of the Triangle universities is stellar for the type of software engineering we provide and have been fortunate to recruit students from NC State, Duke and UNC,” he says.

And more help is wanted.

“More than 40 employees at the Chapel Hill office,” he says, adding: “We’re always looking to grow, and in our Chapel Hill offices we have primarily engineering focused Googlers.”

Often after entrepreneurs sell their startups, they move on to other jobs – or launch a new venture. Reed has chosen to remain a Googler. And he obviously enjoys working in the Triangle as well as for Google.

“Google excels in Chapel Hill much like other Triangle-based companies,” he says. “We have an outstanding talent pool right here that perhaps doesn’t want to move to Silicon Valley or New York. They’d prefer to stay in or locate to this unique and impressive part of the world that we call home.

“Of course, we also treat our employees very well with many of the amenities they would find at Google HQ in Mountain View [Calif.] like catered meals and a relaxed office environment.”