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Image of Jelena Zanko, Sr. Community Manager at Imply
Aug 11th, 2021

The Rise of the Community Leader - Meet Jelena Zanko

  • The Uncommon Team

    The Uncommon Team


Community leaders have a lot in common, like their enthusiasm for teaching and learning, and a passion for building meaningful relationships within and across communities. As community leaders, their goals are similar, but their paths to community leadership are surprisingly diverse and often surprisingly...surprising.

Our series, "The Rise of the Community Leader," celebrates these uncommon paths, the people who took them, and what they learned along the way. Want to connect with more community leaders like them? Join Uncommon.

Meet Jelena Zanko, Sr. Community Manager at Imply.

How did you get your start in community?

I started using the Yelp website in late-2007 (before they launched a mobile app!) and I was instantly hooked. We were in the midst of a deep recession and suddenly, selecting a legitimately good restaurant became more important as many of us were dining out infrequently to save cash. Checking a restaurant's star rating beforehand helped us avoid subpar experiences!

I began writing reviews to share my opinions on my favorite local businesses and was soon invited to become part of the Yelp Elite squad. Dozens of Elite events, many new like-minded friends, and 450 reviews later, the local management team urged me to apply for the suburban Chicago community manager role. I did, and the rest is history! I guess you could say I was an example of a super user or "MVP" turned hire.

Tell us about the community you currently lead.

The Druid Community team at Imply nurtures an incredible community of users and developers, who are evangelizing open source Apache Druid (an analytics database powering real-time, ad hoc, lightning fast analytics). Our community of thousands regularly engages with each other on Slack, the Google user group, Druid Forum (powered by Discourse), via our 39 global meetup groups, on Stack Overflow, Twitter, and via dedicated LinkedIn groups. Many of our community members also make meaningful contributions on GitHub. Giving our community members a voice – whether that be encouraging them to speak at a meetup or empowering them to tell their story in a blog post – is a deeply gratifying part of my job.

What’s a key piece of advice you wish you would have had when starting your community career?

I scribbled this down during a Game of Thrones episode, because the following exchange translates to the early days of community.

John Snow: "I don't know how to ride a dragon."

Daenerys Targaryen: "Nobody does, until they ride a dragon."

But now, we have so many resources - from training modules and community management certifications to CMX - the preeminent community for community management professionals!

Investment in community is growing. Where do you see it in 5-10 years?

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian predicts that in 5 years “more than half of the top-500 publicly traded companies are going to have a chief community officer.” We're seeing more and more organizations invest in their communities and to serve their needs properly, community leadership needs a C-level seat at the executive table.

We’re all about celebrating our community members and their accomplishments. Is there anyone in the community you’d like to appreciate?

Samarth Jain (Sr. Software Engineer at Netflix) and team are doing cool things with Druid for their realtime analytics needs, and Samarth is a committer to the project who also helps answer questions on our forums. Also, Julian Jaffe (ex-Pinterest) opened a pull request for a frequently requested Apache Spark–Apache Druid connector earlier this year, and Samarth offered to help review it. And coincidentally, now Julian is also working at Netflix. Seeing community members work together to create something that will benefit so many is really inspiring!

What's different in community today from just a year or two ago?

Due to the global pandemic, virtual events became a mainstay almost overnight. I know so many of us pivoted from an all in-person event program or a hybrid in-person/virtual program to 100% virtual. Fortunately, our communities acclimated quickly and many event platforms rose to the occasion by developing innovative features to bridge the geographical gaps. Though everyone seems happy with the virtual content, I know that our community misses getting together in a room with pizza and beer!

And now some fun questions we ask our Roomies when they join the team 🙂

Favorite emoji?

The see-no-evil monkey 🙈

If you had a food truck, what might you name it?

"Gluten Tag", a pun on the German greeting "guten tag". I'd serve gluten-free pretzels and bratwurst on gluten-free buns. Looking for an investor; know of anyone?

Favorite good tv show?

Can a show with the word "bad" in it be called good? Because "Breaking Bad" will always be very, very good.

Next travel bucket list item to check off?

Russia. I nerd out on espionage books and Cold War history, so Moscow it is.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jelena! And we'd trust your Yelp reviews to guide us anywhere. 5/5 🙂

We're continually looking to highlight community leaders, voices, and stories—if there's someone you'd like to nominate to share theirs, let us know. See you in Uncommon!