So many young people today are interested in technology, but there’s sometimes a lack of opportunities for them to get hands-on experience designing, building and pitching products in front of industry professionals. The PickHacks 2019 hackathon, a student-founded event held at my alma mater Missouri S&T, recently did a great job providing these valuable experiences to some 300 high-school and college students from around the country.

During the 36-hour event, students worked in groups to build a product or application under the theme of health and fitness. The guidelines of the competition were pretty open, so it was fun to see what each group created: a nutrition app, a health tracker, a web-based quiz. One team even created a PAC-MAN game in which players scored points by eating healthy food, while the ghosts were represented by junk food.

My job was to mentor groups that requested help and then to judge the projects and pitches of 13 teams. Each had varying skills and experience, and I met up with many teams throughout the event, offering guidance where needed and posing leading questions that encouraged them to work through problems on their own. Although none of the teams I saw ended up winning, each walked away having earned something: bolstered confidence, new knowledge or sharpened skills.

Hackathons are unique because they simulate the real-world development process: Teams must come up with an idea, formulate a plan, prioritize resources, make sacrifices along the way, and sell their idea to the judges. Of course, this can be intimidating for young developers. I was inspired to see the students not only step up to the challenge, but also push themselves to the limits of their capabilities – some groups even chose to pursue projects that required working with technology that was completely unfamiliar to them.

The startup mindset is essential to everything we do at 1904labs. Over the fun, exhausting weekend, it was rewarding to see so many young people embrace this mindset – not because they were told to do so, but because they quickly learned that’s the most effective way to approach work in the real world.