Secure Code Warrior

How to configure secure code training for better secure coding outcomes

When it comes to secure code training for developers, educational outcomes leave a lot to be desired. Many companies spend big, only to see minimal returns in practice. And little wonder.

When it comes to secure code training for developers, educational outcomes leave a lot to be desired. Many companies spend big, only to see minimal returns in practice. And little wonder. Present research* shows that developers believe that learning secure code is boring and that learning how to implement secure code is challenging. New approaches to secure coding training are needed, so in 2020, Secure Code Warrior engaged with Evans Data Corp. to conduct primary research into developers' attitudes towards secure coding, secure code practices, and security operations (download whitepaper here).

When offered a chance to critique the training on offer, developers were unsparing, claiming that current secure code training is:  

  • Taught in a vacuum - 40% 
  • Too theoretical, not related to their work, and not ‘hands-on’ enough - 40% 
  • Often infrequent, not associated with their work or engaging - 30%.

These statistics are serious; they tell us that current secure code training is contextually irrelevant, with no meaningful relationship to what developers do every day. 

Often, they can’t apply what they learn back in their work environments. That makes so much security training a waste of time and money. 

Five ways to build the training developers want

When it comes to the kind of training developers want, five things were abundantly clear. 

  1. 75% of developers preferred structured on-the-job training, finding it the most effective and satisfying way to learn.

    And when it comes to what that training should include, developers have some very clear and specific asks: 
  2. 65% say that more training in language-specific vulnerabilities is required
  3. 65% want more training in the OWASP Top 10.
  4. Many also want a focus on compliance security frameworks, including NIST (58%) CIS (52%) and PCI DSS (50%).
  5. 78% want informal peer coaching and guidance as part of that training.

But above all, developers want secure code training that is practical and rooted in the context of their daily work. Developers don't want to sit around listening to lecturers – they want to get their hands on stuff and try it for themselves. They want a focus on practical applications – something that current training programs sorely lack. According to the developers we surveyed, the top 5 characteristics of good training are: 

  • More practical training, showing real work scenarios (30%). 
  • Guided activity focused on specific code or vulnerabilities (24%).
  • Inclusion of more examples or use cases (24%) Provides some concrete advantage to taking the training (<20%) Incorporates more team-building exercises (<20%). 
  • Provides some tangible benefit to taking the training. 
  • Incorporates more team-building exercises.

Developers want secure code training that imparts fundamental skills – and genuine recognition. As secure coding skills are highly desired and recognized by employers, developers have shown their enthusiasm to differentiate themselves from their peers, particularly when applying for new jobs. Developers seeking to demonstrate their technical mastery or specialized skills have long used formal certification programs. When asked if they sought structured training programs for certification, 70% revealed that they were looking for these programs. The significant motivations were seeking official recognition for skills gained, being more efficient in their work, and becoming invaluable to their company. 

When it comes to better educational outcomes, developer-centric training is the key.  Structured secure code training is desirable to developers  – but only if it offers them what they want. Companies that rise to the challenge and re-configure their secure code training to developers' needs will reap the benefits of fewer recurring vulnerabilities, faster code delivery and the enhanced reputation that goes with both.

The unequivocal evidence is that developers want contextual, hands-on education in relevant programming languages and frameworks with challenges that mimic those they face in the real world. As champions of change in secure coding, Secure Code Warrior takes a human-led approach to deliver on developers' requests. If you'd like to see the potential impact on your teams' ability to ship secure code faster, request a demo now.

*Shifting from reaction to prevention: The changing face of application security. Secure Code Warrior and Evans Data Corp. 2020