10 Great Female Computer Nerds in Pop Culture

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Amid the rave reviews for The Social Network, an interesting conversation has emerged: Why were the women in the movie so awful, from bong-gargling tech groupies to Ivy League party girls to the kind of psychobitch who’ll set your bed on fire? While we loved the movie and thought there was a certain amount of critique of the male leads’ succeed-to-get-laid model inherent in it, it does seem odd that no ladies seemed to be doing anything of substance during Facebook’s startup days.

Luckily, there are plenty of great role models out there for the girl computer geeks of the world — and we’re about to get another one, with Zooey Deschanel slated to portray programming pioneer Ada Lovelace in the biopic Enchantress of Numbers. As we look forward to that movie, a look back at some of pop culture’s most wonderful female computer nerds.

Willow Rosenberg – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy’s fire-haired pal may have blossomed into terrifyingly powerful lesbian witch, but she started out as a humble, high-school computer geek with an unrequited crush on her best friend, Xander. Even as magic deposed coding as Willow’s prime occupation, her hacking skills continued to get the Scooby crew out of some tough jams.

Lisbeth Salander – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series

From the bestselling books to the excellent Swedish films to David Fincher’s forthcoming remake, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its heroine are impossible to avoid. Lisbeth Salander is exactly the kind of tough lady you root for, a brilliant hacker hardened by a dark past. She’s also the first cultural icon in years who’s managed to make goth look cool.

Cindy Mackenzie – Veronica Mars

Leave it to nerdy sleuth Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) to enlist another girl geek to help her solve crimes. Tina Majorino, who had already earned dork cred in Napoleon Dynamite, plays Mac, a hacker who happens to be a big fan of Apple computers and wouldn’t be caught dead without a brightly colored streak in her hair.

Norma Arnold – The Wonder Years

She may have started out as a ’60s housewife, but as feminism started to get rolling on this retro series, Norma Arnold came into her own. As her children grew up, she went back to school (to finish a degree she’d interrupted to marry Jack) and took a job at a software company.

Kate Libby – Hackers

Before Angelina Jolie was an A-list celebrity, she co-starred with future husband Johnny Lee Miller in this outlandish cyberpunk fantasy. Kate, known in the hacker community as “Acid Burn,” is both the love interest and the chief rival of Dade (a.k.a. “Zero Cool,” played by Miller). They cause mayhem, evade arrest, and end up going on a date. Kate even wears a dress, which is kind of a big deal for her.

Penelope Garcia – Criminal Minds

Like Lisbeth Salander, Kirsten Vangsness’s Penelope Garcia had a traumatic childhood and picked up hacking as a survival skill. Faced with the choice of jail or government work, she goes legit as a technical analyst at the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. She has a pretty sweet computer lab (and lots of wacky accessories!) at her disposal.

Abby Sciuto – NCIS

So, her goth style is more Hot Topic than Lisbeth Salander. We won’t hold that against Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette), a simultaneously upbeat and morbid forensics analyst with a serious caffeine addiction. A multi-talented gal, she often uses computers in her work and has a background in hacking, too.

Allegra Geller – eXistenZ

In David Cronenberg’s mid-’90s sci-fi thriller, Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) isn’t just a video game designer — she’s the best in the entire world. The plot of the film, and its layers of virtual reality, are too complicated to summarize, but suffice to say that whether she’s inhabiting the “real” world or one big game, she is a total badass.

Ivy – Dollhouse

Yet another great Joss Whedon lady nerd, Liza Lapira’s Ivy is computer genius Topher Brink’s (Fran Kranz) lab coat-wearing assistant. He greatly underestimates her abilities, forcing her to do all kinds of bitch-work. Of course, she manages to prove her prowess by the end of the short-lived series…

Toshiko Sato – Torchwood

A character on the BBC’s long-running Dr.Who franchise, Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori) is the technical expert for Torchwood‘s Cardiff-based team of alien investigators. This computer wiz comes from a long line of government geeks, and her risky work results in a tragic fate.