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MCSE/MCSA Certification Paths

There's more than one way to earn the latest Microsoft MCSA/MCSE certifications. Find out which makes the most sense for you.

For those who are pondering Microsoft certifications-especially MCSA (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator) or MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer)-various choices lie ahead. That is, they must decide if they should pursue Windows 2000 credentials and later upgrade to Windows Server 2003, or if they should go right after Windows Server 2003 and skip Windows 2000 altogether. Likewise, those only partway through Windows 2000 versions of MS credentials might also think about switching to Windows Server 2003 instead of completing Windows 2000 credentials.

To address this conundrum, I'd like to talk first about why someone might choose Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003 as a certification target, then describe a rationale to help those still not sure which way to go to help them pick one track or the other. Today, Windows 2000 is clearly in the lead position, and represents the majority choice for current installations (except perhaps on the desktop, where Windows XP Professional is about on par with Windows 2000 professional in terms of current and planned installations). Thus, if your goal is to get to work right away and take care of networks currently up and running, Windows 2000 should be the target for you. If the transition from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 Server is any predictor of how the transition from Windows 2000 to Windows 2003 Server will go, given that Windows Server 2003 was released in April (nearly 6 months ago) this situation will prevail for at least another 12-18 months. If a slower economy and tighter IT spending has any influence on this phenomenon, it will be to stretch out that window rather than to shrink it. On the other hand, there are several reasons why individuals might choose to go straight for Windows Server 2003 and skip Windows 2000:

  • Early adopters are companies or organizations that aggressively pursue new technologies for all kinds of reasons. If you work for such a company, chances are they already have pilot implementations of Windows Server 2003 running, and wholesale migration is already being planned and scheduled.
  • Microsoft partner companies-be they consultants, developers, trainers, or resellers-are generally required to maintain minimum numbers of certified staff (2 or more is typical), and such staff are generally required to stay current on certification. In the past, this has meant that within one year of release of a new operating system, certification holders must upgrade or recertify to allow their employers to remain in partner programs.
  • Companies that build software, provide products, or that service or support Windows Server 2003 also usually get employees certified earlier than is typical. Though it's possible to argue this population is a subset of the early adopters, this group is strongly motivated by business concerns to get ahead of the game, and such people are usually among the first to certify under new regimes.

If your employer (or a prospective employer you'd like to work for) meets one or more of these criteria, it probably makes sense to go straight into the Windows Server 2003 track.