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Behind the scenes of the (new) Foundation Level curriculum

The time had come again: The new release of the iSAQB Foundation curriculum came out just in time at the beginning of April 2023.

Alongside key differ­ences compared to the previous version, this blog post explains how work is under­taken within an inter­na­tional and decentral associ­ation and what methods and tools we use.


Why a new release?

The high degree of dynamism in the IT sector and software devel­opment prompts us to regularly review even the funda­mental Software architecture training with regard to structure and content: Are there any new approaches or methods in our disci­pline? Has the priority or practical impor­tance of existing topics changed?

In particular, we ask many Foundation training partic­i­pants and trainers around the world for feedback or sugges­tions for improvements.

Although we receive little response to these questions, it is never­theless very important for the respon­sible Foundation Level Working Group (FLWG).


Stable release cycle

The FLWG already agreed on a two-year release cycle back in 2018. The reason for this supposed long release period is the high workload involved in each release. Figure 1 shows the schematic release process:

Click on image to enlarge.

Figure 1: Foundation curriculum release process


Above all, the wide range of stake­holders affected speaks against shorter releases:

  • Over 150 accredited trainers worldwide, who need to incor­porate the updates to the curriculum (manually) into their respective training documents.
  • There are also dozens of training providers, who develop training materials and organize training courses.
  • Exami­nation companies, who receive official exami­nation questions from the iSAQB but need to convert them into their own, propri­etary technical formats.
  • Members of the Foundation Level Working Group (FLWG), who actively contribute and/or proofread.
  • iSAQB GmbH, which publishes the curricula and exami­nation questions in a variety of languages (such as Spanish, Italian, etc.).
  • The trans­lation agencies, that translate the curricula from English or German into other languages. This trans­lation, in turn, undergoes quality assurance by inter­na­tional review teams.

Especially the last point, the trans­la­tions into other languages, is both expensive and protracted due to the necessary review processes. As a result, the FLWG and iSAQB wanted the 24-month cycle time in order to keep this workload within reasonable limits.

The curriculum is also crucial for the (strictly confi­dential) exami­nation questions, which, in turn, need to be converted by more than a dozen exami­nation companies into various electronic formats (for online exami­na­tions) or printed formats (for on-site examinations).


Changes compared to 2021

The most important thing first: The proven funda­mental structure has been completely retained: The five chapters (see Figure 2) have been providing a clean structure for the Foundation curriculum for many years.

Figure 2: Chapter structure of the Foundation curriculum V‑2023


I have already explained the impor­tance of these chapters in a previous blog post.

The content changes to the curriculum V‑2023 are rather small in nature. Overall, the curriculum was formu­lated and struc­tured more clearly in important points.

Synopsis 1 provides an overview (here: “LG” = learning goal).

LG 1–2: Energy efficiency added as a typical requirement
LG 1–6, LG 1–7: Exami­nation relevance reduced
LG 1–10: Cloud-native systems added as a type of IT system
LG 2–3: Title changed
LG 2–5: Various patterns changed slightly in the wording
LG 2–10: New learning goal “Principles of software deployments”
LG 3–1: Title changed
LG 3–2: Expanded with the old LG 3–9 for better cohesion of content
LG 3–9: New number, was previ­ously 3–10
LG 4–3 & LG 4–4: More consistent choice of words in both learning goals
Many liter­ature refer­ences and online links corrected, some sources added or updated

Synopsis 1: Summary of important changes in V‑2023 compared to V‑2021


Voluntary and dispersed – analogous to open source

The work on the Foundation curriculum (and, inciden­tally, all other iSAQB curricula) is based on the voluntary involvement of inter­ested parties, who have come together in the Foundation Level Working Group under the aegis and the statutes of iSAQB. At first glance, this form of organi­zation barely differs from many open-source projects – so, what could be more obvious than to use proven means of (open-source) software devel­opment to organize work?

Several years ago, we switched over the mainte­nance of the Foundation curriculum from a propri­etary Office format to AsciiDoc and moved to a public GitHub repository.

We therefore use GitHub issues and a corre­sponding task board to coordinate tasks (see Figure 3, online at [flwg-tasks]). On closer inspection, you can see that the FLWG has completed over a hundred “issues” for the 2023 release.

Click on image to enlarge.

Figure 3: (Extract from) Foundation Curriculum Task Board


iSAQB documents are built like software

As all of the content, such as learning goals, is maintained in AsciiDoc, we can treat it exactly like source code: Maintain a precisely traceable version history, detect differ­ences properly with diff, and – what pleases us in the FLWG the most: build automat­i­cally. We have explained the background to this in more detail in the blog post “Babylon-as-a-feature” (see [babylon-feature]).

We would like to highlight some key properties here:

  • Our automatism is 100% based on free software, i.e., no propri­etary instal­lation is required for collaboration.
  • The FLWG is only respon­sible for the languages English and German, others lie within the respon­si­bility of iSAQB GmbH or the trans­lation agencies.
  • Our automatism generates PDFs and HTML in a standardized iSAQB layout. More on this follows below.
  • Documents are seman­ti­cally versioned; details can be found under [versions].


Standardized layout thanks to Git

iSAQB would like all official documents to have a uniform layout wherever possible – so, what could be more obvious here than automating the styling as fully as possible?

AsciiDoc (see [asciidoc]) offers elegant possi­bil­ities here: Flexible format templates for PDF as well as the integration of one’s own style sheets into HTML gener­ation. The iSAQB standard layouts can each be found in their own GitHub repos­i­tories (see e.g., [pdftheme]) and are integrated into curricula as Git submodules.

This technical trick allows iSAQB to avoid the redundant mainte­nance of formats or styling, while also enabling new curricula to be created easily.

Other standardized elements now also flow from curricula (such as license terms and copyright notices) into the gener­ation of curricula via Git submodules.


A (small) layer‑8 problem

However, partic­u­larly with the Foundation curriculum, we have reached the limits of this elegant solution: Some of the stake­holders mentioned above, partic­u­larly trans­lation agencies and inter­na­tional reviewers, insist upon propri­etary Office formats for the documen­tation. This is due less to weaknesses in our AsciiDoc tool chain and more to human factors – known as a layer‑8 problem in the industry. iSAQB GmbH acts here as an “adapter pattern” – and manually produces the necessary PDF documents, such as for Italian or Spanish, on the basis of Office documents.



The new version of the Foundation curriculum is cleaner and better organized, has been dusted off somewhat and spiced up with a few inter­esting new details. The Foundation Level Working Group would be pleased to receive feedback!



Thank you to all those involved in the new curriculum release, and special thanks to Dr. Alexander Lorz for reviewing this article, and Ben Wolf for his massive contribution.



[flwg-tasks]: Task board for the Foundation Working Group

[cpsa-github] The public GitHub repos­itory for the Foundation Level, curriculum with tasks/issues

[babylon] Gernot Starke, Benjamin Wolf: Babylon-as-a-Feature: Multi-lingual documen­tation, made simple





[glossary] iSAQB Glossary of Software Architecture Termi­nology. A free book explaining terms from the iSAQB curricula

[download] The iSAQB download site

[exam-guide] Gernot Starke + Alexander Lorz: Software Architecture Foundation – Exam prepa­ration guide. VanHaren Inter­na­tional, 2021. This book explains all of the learning goals in detail, and helps to perfectly prepare for the CPSA Foundation certification (both for the old and the new curriculum!)

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About the Author

Dr. Gernot Starke
Gernot Starke, INNOQ Fellow, is a computer scientist through and through. He finds programming cool and loves the challenges of modern software systems. Gernot is a co-founder of iSAQB and has headed the “Foundation Level” working group for almost 10 years. He is also the co-founder of the two open-source architecture methodology projects arc42 and aim42. In his everyday working life, Gernot advises companies from various sectors on systematic software architecture. He regularly holds training courses on architecture and related topics. The first edition of his book, “Effektive Softwarearchitekturen,” was published in 2001 and has since been continually updated – the latest (9th) edition was published in 2020. Together with Alexander Lorz, he created the (English) “Software Architecture Foundation - CPSA-F Exam Study Guide,” published by VanHaaren International – the only book that explains all 40 CPSA-F learning goals individually.

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