5 Things Structural Engineer Liz Larsen Can’t Live Without

Construction workers rely on several essential tools to get the job done. Here, a structural engineer shares the items she can’t live without on the job

Liz Larsen is a structural project engineer for design, engineering and planning firm Stewart in Raleigh, North Carolina. These are the five things Larsen can’t do her job without.


For decades, a handheld calculator has been a structural engineer’s tool of choice. But this isn’t a high-end graphing calculator most may have used in high school algebra. The two exams engineers have to take to attain their licenses don’t allow those. “I’ve had this calculator for 10 years,” Larsen said.


Most people like coffee, but for Larsen the drink has special meaning to her productivity as an engineer. “For me, coffee is a little different; it’s not just going to the coffee shop and getting my morning coffee,” Larsen said. Instead of buying off-the-shelf pre-ground coffee, Larsen only purchases whole beans and uses a manual grinder before every brewed pot.


Like the rest of the industry, digitalization has taken over previously paper-based workflows and processes in structural engineering. This makes Larsen’s laptop computer among her most essential tools. “I think over the past decade we’ve really pushed further and further away from paper,” Larsen said. From Bluebeam to other essential software, Larsen said she literally can’t do her job without her laptop.  

Steel Manual

Nevertheless, Larsen said she isn’t entirely digital when it comes to her essential tools. Like most structural engineers, Larsen said she cannot work without her $300 steel manual, which she uses to verify principles essential to structural engineering and design. “I have tried to move away from this book and go to PDF, but I always come back,” Larsen said.


Being a structural engineer is hard, arduous work, and Larsen said it’s a career that is almost impossible to find fulfilling if not for this essential, non-tangible item: curiosity. “It is essential to who I am as a person and also an engineer,” Larsen said.

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