Employee Spotlight – Liz Johnson, Project Engineer
“Kier + Wright validated my chosen career path,” said Liz Johnson, a project engineer at K+W in Livermore. “The training, mentoring and hands-on project experience that I’ve gained here have helped me become the engineer I always wanted to be.”
Liz’s interest in civil engineering began in high school when her mother told her that she could build wells in Africa if she was an engineer.
“I thought that was so cool. I realized that civil engineering was a path I could use to design things that improved communities and made peoples’ lives better. That really excited me.”
Liz was interested in physics from an early age, but didn’t necessarily feel like math came naturally to her.
“I felt like I had to work twice as hard at it, but I always really enjoyed problem-solving,” she said. “I felt a sense of accomplishment when I worked through a particular type of problem until I truly understood it.”
Liz believes her drive and tenacity come from her background in sports. She played basketball in high school and was recruited to play point guard at San Jose State University.
“Athletics shaped me,” she said. “Sports taught me to dig deep and persevere. I think this is a big part of why I am so committed to my career, my work and my family.”
Two years into her studies at San Jose State, Liz welcomed her son into the world. She took very little time off from school, then balanced her college classes, a part-time job and being a new mom, ultimately completing her civil engineering degree and two internships in just over five years.
“It wasn’t easy,” she said. “My commitment to doing well for my son, Kairo, kept me going. I was so fortunate to have a great, supportive family to help me balance being a good mom and doing well in school.”
Like most civil engineering students, Liz didn’t learn about land development in school. She was interested in water resources and completed an internship at the Contra Costa County Water District.
After completing her degree, Liz came to work for Kier + Wright and has found opportunities to apply the knowledge of utility infrastructure and hydrology gained during her studies and internships to the large-scale commercial and industrial land development projects that she designs and manages today.
“Kier + Wright is a fast-paced environment,” she said. “You learn quickly here.”
Liz’s logical, analytical approach to solving problems helped her succeed at K+W.
“If something doesn’t make sense to me, I figure it out or ask the question,” she said. “I always remind my team that it’s our job to be accountable for every detail. At the end of the day, engineers are problem-solvers—and you can’t solve a problem if you don’t understand it.”
Early in her career, Liz sometimes found it challenging to command authority when working with predominantly male design and construction teams.
“I worried sometimes that my voice sounded too small or too high-pitched,” she reflects. “Sometimes it made me nervous going into meetings.”
Liz also wondered if she needed to be more aggressive and demanding to get the results that some of the men that she worked with expected—and then she made an important decision.
“I decided I was tired of worrying about that kind of stuff. I decided to be myself—I am happy with my voice and the way I communicate with others,” Liz declares.
Liz quickly realized that confidence was all she needed to get the results she needed. With this confidence, she could finally see one her greatest strengths.
“Empathy—and the ability to see that everyone is different—is a good thing,” she said. “My empathy helps me make connections and see things that others might miss.”
Liz also feels like things are changing. She notes that it is increasingly common to find women leading the design of the projects that she is working on.
“I was recently on a call for 200 Park in downtown San Jose,” she recalls. “I realized that almost every design discipline on the call was being represented by a woman responsible for managing a key aspect of the project’s design. We all kind of paused to appreciate how great that is.”
Liz’s advice to women in engineer? Be yourself.
“If you’re comfortable with who you are and you’re confident, you’ll succeed,” she said. “Being the best version of yourself doesn’t look the same for everyone.”