Yulia Eskin
Yulia Eskin

Q&A: This tech coach is helping immigrants reach their dreams

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Yulia Eskin, 34, was born in Belarus, grew up in Israel, went to high school and college in Toronto and settled in the Bay Area to work as a software engineer.

But after achieving success and moving into a leadership position at work, Eskin realized something was missing. “I really wanted to cultivate relationships and make an impact,” she says. “I wanted to touch people’s lives in a significant way.”

So she shifted professional gears. She became a personal coach, focusing on first-generation immigrants, and organized a conference last summer called “Every Immigrant’s American Dream.”

More recently, she refined her focus, aiming to help immigrants in tech achieve leadership roles. She held her first “tech lead” workshop in December, and plans to hold more in the months ahead. For details, visit yuliaeskin.com.

J.: Your family made some major moves when you were growing up. Why?

Yulia Eskin: With the opening of the borders in the USSR, many Russian Jews decided to leave for Israel. We left in 1990 when I was 4. It was very scary for my parents. Living in a closed country, they didn’t really have a clue what Israel was like. They had no idea; they’d never seen that level of abundance, the banking system … everything was so new. My grandparents, aunts and uncles joined them three months later.

I was 17 when my family moved to Canada. My parents had been worried about my sister and I going into the Israeli army, and secretly started planning to leave. Canada was a huge culture shock for me.

Looking back, how do you feel about that?

I left Israel before going into the army, and growing up in Israel, it’s something that you really want to do. It’s like a rite of passage. I miss that. In Israel, it was like I was living in a Russian Jewish city. I never felt like an immigrant.

Was your family religious?

I was only in a synagogue once in Israel. When I came to San Francisco, I realized that a lot of young adult Jewish events are in the synagogue … When you’re in Israel, you don’t try to be Jewish, it’s just all around you.

After achieving a leadership position as a software engineer, you trained to be a life coach, focusing on first-generation immigrants. Why?

If you are a child of immigrants, you have questions around many major life decisions. You ask yourself, “How do I want to live my life and how do I want to preserve my cultural heritage?” Identity is a big question that has been on my mind the majority of my life. I have been asking myself for a long time — what is my cultural identity?

The first conference you organized, held virtually due to the pandemic, featured 20 speakers — immigrants who’d achieved success in their respective fields, as well as communication experts. What was your goal?

To highlight immigrant success stories in mainstream media, and equally as important, to talk about how immigration shapes us as people, and what are the gifts of being an immigrant. Also, what you go through when you’re climbing that path to your dreams.

Your most recent workshop was on how to become a “tech lead.” How did that go?

Over 100 people registered. It was a mix of teaching and panel discussions. What inspired me to create this is that the tech lead role is not well defined in the industry, and rarely are engineers helped by their managers to understand the scope of the role they’re taking on. Often the job is discovered through trial and error.

I wanted to reflect back on my own path and distill what the role means and how the leadership qualities that are important for the role can be demonstrated early on in an engineer’s career. The workshop also addressed how one’s culture and immigrant identity influence one’s leadership style.

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.