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5 questions with Hilliary Turnipseed on local engineering talent

With over a decade of talent acquisition and management experience, Hilliary Turnipseed discusses how she has worked to retain engineers, and offers some tips on skills they should possess.

Formerly talent acquisition head at Upside Business Travel, Hilliary Turnipseed decided to start her own consulting firm. (Courtesy photo)

This editorial article is a part of's Tech Stacks Month.

Hilliary Turnipseed is a talent and culture advisor, with over a decade of talent acquisition and management experience.

Her niche is working with early-stage startups and the education tech, media production and advertising industries. She most recently served as the head of talent for D.C.-based tech startup Upside Business Travel. As DC previously reported, she decided to part ways with the travel booking startup in May to start her own consulting firm focusing on building and maintaining diverse teams. She worked at the startup for about two years and was responsible for building a diverse startup engineering team.

Prior to joining Upside, Turnipseed managed talent acquisition efforts for companies such as POLITICO, Discovery Communications and Blackboard. She also currently serves as a partnerships director for the Women Who Code’s DC chapter.

We spoke with Turnipseed about tactics for retaining engineering talent, insight about what programming skills local engineers should possess and ways to build a well-rounded tech team.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Working in talent acquisition and the constantly changing landscape, what are some main things you do and promote to retain engineers?

Professional/career development opportunities, wellness initiatives, regular compensation/market rate reviews (at least 2 time a year) and flexible working arrangements (remote-work/generous family leave).

Talking about tech stacks, what programming languages do you think D.C.-based engineers and developers should know to land a job?

  • JavaScript is the norm these days – Node.js/React.JS
  • GO – great language for data-driven/data-heavy products
  • Python – for anyone looking to get into data science, machine learning and AI

[Editor’s note: Find this interesting? Check out this list of popular tech stacks at major companies like Facebook, Airbnb and Netflix.]

Do you think it’s important for a programming team to have engineers and developers with diverse tech stacks?

I’m a bigger fan of diversity within overall experience, as opposed to tech stacks. A solid engineer will always want to learn new languages, which is great. However, when building a product for a specific community, your workforce should mirror the community it is serving to create an innovative, accessible and inclusive product. Diversity to me in this sense includes: years of total experience, type of company experience, schooling (traditional v. nontraditional), left handed v. right handed even. Not just race, ethnicity, age or ability.

What’s the right way to build a technical team?

  • Don’t just hire folks that make you comfortable based on similar experiences or backgrounds. It’s a common practice way more than you think, that often leads to unconscious biases. There’s no innovation without getting outside of your comfort zone and investing in talent that will bring different perspectives. Diversity should be a priority.
  • Create an engineering culture that holds people accountable but also values input from every member.
  • Peer mentoring
  • Keep scrum teams small (no more than 5)
  • Invest in professional development and skills coaching, outside of technical skills.

Outside of tech skills, what are some other skills you look for in tech professionals?

Flexibility/Handles change well, resiliency, the ability to work both individually and in a group setting. Hunger for learning and problem solving and a level of general positivity and/or “healthy” skepticism. Candidates who run negative could lead to toxicity in a workspace.

Series: Tech Stacks Month 2019

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