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Microsoft Certifications: What's Your Path?

  • By Steve Rowe
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The Microsoft Certified System Administrator (MCSA) and Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) certifications are two premier Microsoft certifications for those interested in network support and engineering. The MCSA is a relatively new certification that is seeing considerable popularity. According to www.mcpmag.com, around 50,000 have achieved this certification since the program came into existence in late 2001. The MCSA is a mid-level certification, only requiring a total of four exams to be passed. The MCSE is the more premier certification, requiring seven exams to be passed. The MCSE has been around longer, but it also has enjoyed considerable success. The same poll on mcpmag.com lists the number of MCSE certified professionals to be near the 180,000 mark.

You can achieve an MCSA and an MCSE on either Windows 2000 technologies or on Windows 2003 and XP technologies. To determine which path is right for you, take a look at the technologies your employer intends to use or is using. If this situation is not like yours, contact some recruiters, look at IT job sites, or contact consulting companies to see what they have been asked to implement in order to get a feel for which set of technologies the market is going to be using more. This will give you a better idea of which track to take.

If you are already on a track for an MCSA or MCSE in Windows 2000 technologies, it is advised to stay the course and finish your Windows 2000 track. First, Windows 2000 technologies are not going away anytime soon, and Microsoft is offering two upgrade exams that will allow you to move your Windows 2000 credentials into the Windows 2003 and XP level. Keep in mind that to move a Windows 2000 MCSA to a Windows Server 2003 and XP MCSA, you will only need to take one upgrade exam. For the MCSE upgrade, you will be required to take two exams.

Let's take a look at each certification in more depth.


As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the MCSA is considered a mid-level certification in that it only requires passing a total of four exams for completion. The MCSA credential is a perfect fit for someone who wants to stay in the network and system implementation, management, and support area of IT. This certification will give you more breadth in your learning than the MCP, but it does not require you to go the full distance of seven exams required by the MCSE. The main difference between the MCSA and the MCSE is that the MCSA does not require you to take planning and design courses and exams, where these are required by the MCSE.

To get the MCSA, one is required to pass three Core Exams and one elective. The following list breaks down the topics covered in the core exam track:

  • Client Operating System Exams: You must take one exam from the Client Operating System track. This can be an exam from the Windows 2000 Professional track or the Windows XP track that will test your abilities on installing, configuring, and effectively administering a Windows desktop operating system.

  • Networking Systems Exams: You must select and pass two exams from the Networking Systems group of topics as well. You will need to demonstrate proficiency in installing, configuring, and managing either a Windows 2000 Server or Windows Server 2003 as well as a Windows 2000 or 2003 network infrastructure.

Elective exams can cover topics such as implementing and managing SQL Server, Exchange Server, ISA Server, or SMS Server, to name a few. This elective requirement will give you greater breadth in implementing and managing other Microsoft products and technologies within a Windows 2000 or 2003 network infrastructure. You may also substitute the MCSA elective with a combination of CompTIA exams. You can use a combination of CompTIA's Network+ and A+ exams or a combination of Server+ and A+ exams to satisfy the elective requirement as well (see www.comptia.org for more information on CompTIA exams).

If you are an MCSA in Windows 2000 technologies or you have invested significant time, study, and resources into a Windows 2000 MCSA, don't fret that your time has been wasted. In either situation, you will have to only pass one upgrade exam to move your Windows 2000 credentials into the Windows Server 2003 and XP realm after you have successfully completed the Windows 2000 track. The following exam is the only exam required by MCSA's on Windows 2000 to pass:

  • Exam 70-292—"Managing and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment for an MCSA Certified on Windows 2000"

This exam is expected to be much like regular Microsoft certifications in terms of length and style. Those who took the 70-240 exam, for the transition from NT4 to Windows 2000, may remember that it was rather long and tedious. Upgrade exams for Windows 2000 to Windows 2003 are not expected to be this long.

Microsoft sometimes changes names and numbers of exams and tracks, so be sure to always check Microsoft's certification site for current exam numbers and names. For the MCSA track, try http://www.microsoft.com/traincert/mcp/mcsa/ for more information.

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This article was originally published on March 24, 2003

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