Fast Company

TRUE GRIT

Deja Baker’s job may be unremarkable—software engineer at a Chicago trading firm—but the journey she took to land it represents a triumph that doesn’t fit neatly on a résumé.
Baker lost nearly everything—except her powerful drive to succeed.

THE PHONE CALL THAT ENDED THE MILITARY career of Midshipman Deja Baker came on a rainy morning in Hawaii in late May of 2017. Having recently completed her third year at the U.S. Naval Academy, Baker was on leave, one week into a month of R&R—hiking, beachcombing, and Netflix-bingeing at her fiancé’s apartment in Oahu. The voice on the phone was her company officer’s. He told her she was to return to Annapolis immediately and pack up her things. Her time at the academy was over.

“It put me in panic mode,” she says.

That spring, a mysterious bruise on her leg had prompted Baker to visit the doctor, a decision that tipped one unlucky domino after the next: The doctor ordered blood tests; the results were alarming, and he hospitalized her; after a five-day stay, she received a diagnosis of a rare blood condition she chooses not to reveal. Simply put, her blood didn’t clot right. The navy insists that its officers bleed properly. So, even though she had already served a tour in Japan as an enlisted sailor, had completed advanced training in cryptologic intelligence, was one year from completing a computer science degree, and was aiming to work in the information warfare

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