The term structural derives from the Latin word structus, which is “to pile, build, assemble”. The first use of the term structure was in 1440. The term engineer derives from the old French term engin, meaning “skill, cleverness” and also ‘war machine’. This term in turn derives from the Latin word ingenium, which means “inborn qualities, talent”, and is constructed of in- “in” + gen-, the root of gignere, meaning “to beget, produce.” The term engineer is related to ingenious. The term structural engineer is generally applied to those who have completed a degree in civil engineering specializing in the design of structures, or a post-graduate degree in structural engineering. However, an individual can become a structural engineer through training and experience outside educational institutions as well, perhaps most notably under the Institution of Structural Engineers (UK) regulations. The training and experience requirements for structural engineers varies greatly, being governed in some way in most developed nations. In all cases the term is regulated to restrict usage to only those individuals having specialist knowledge of the requirements and design of safe, serviceable, and economical structures. The term engineer in isolation varies widely in its use and application, and can, depending on the geographical location of its use, refer to many different technical and creative professions in its common usage.

Structural engineers are responsible for engineering design and analysis. Entry-level structural engineers may design the individual structural elements of a structure, for example the beams, columns, and floors of a building. More experienced engineers would be responsible for the structural design and integrity of an entire system, such as a building.Structural engineers often specialise in particular fields, such as bridge engineering, building engineering, pipeline engineering, industrial structures or special structures such as vehicles or aircraft. Structural engineering has existed since humans first started to construct their own structures. It became a more defined and formalised profession with the emergence of the architecture profession as distinct from the engineering profession during the industrial revolution in the late 19th Century. Until then, the architect and the structural engineer were often one and the same – the master builder. Only with the understanding of structural theories that emerged during the 19th and 20th century did the professional structural engineer come into existence.

The role of a structural engineer today involves a significant understanding of both static and dynamic loading, and the structures that are available to resist them. The complexity of modern structures often requires a great deal of creativity from the engineer in order to ensure the structures support and resist the loads they are subjected to. A structural engineer will typically have a four or five year undergraduate degree, followed by a minimum of three years of professional practice before being considered fully qualified.

Structural engineers are licensed or accredited by different learned societies and regulatory bodies around the world (for example, the Institution of Structural Engineers in the UK). Depending on the degree course they have studied and/or the jurisdiction they are seeking licensure in, they may be accredited (or licensed) as just structural engineers, or as civil engineers, or as both civil and structural engineers.