Stick with Win2k or switch to Windows Server 2003 certifications?

A look at the differences between the two cert paths and some advice in choosing which to focus on.

Microsoft has now released enough of its Windows Server 2003 exams for MCSA candidates to earn this new cert. By the end of October, a few hardy souls can likewise earn the MCSE version. Given that many Microsoft professionals are in the process of getting certified on Windows 2000, the overriding question is: When does it make sense to consider dropping the old track and switching to the new? The answer: It depends.

MCSA:


Whether you tackle Windows 2000 exams or Windows Server 2003 exams as an MCSA candidate, you must complete four exams, include three core exams and a single elective. My advice to those of you on the way to a Windows 2000 MCSA is to go ahead and finish that credential if you only have one or two exams left to go. Then you can take a single upgrade exam later this year (or even some time next year) to refresh your credentials for Windows Server 2003. If you have more than two exams left to go, however, it may make sense to switch tracks. But even then, if you need to get certified in the next three to six months, it may make more sense to stick with Windows 2000, simply because it takes that long for aftermarket support materials -- study guides, exam crams, practice tests and flashcards -- to become available.

MCSE:


MCSEs face the same climb whether they follow a Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003 track: seven exams in all. But Windows Server 2003 candidates must take six core exams (rather than five as for Windows 2000), and elective options are more limited than those for the Win2k MCSE. In this case, if you have three or more exams to take before finishing, you may be justified in switching. But here again, if you need your cert in six months or less, it's probably smarter to stick with Windows 2000 because of the availability of supporting materials. In that case, take the two upgrade exams for Windows Server 2003 some time next year or later.

The upgrade path:


Microsoft has done a good job in defining an upgrade path for certified Windows 2000 professionals seeking to refresh their credentials for Windows Server 2003. Two exams are involved; MCSAs take the first one and MCSEs take both:

  • Exam 70-292: Managing and maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 environment for an MCSA certified on Windows 2000
    This covers the same objectives as core exams 70-290 and 70-291 in a two-for-one format that takes only 90 minutes and costs the same as other MCP exams.
  • Exam 70-296: Planning, implementing, and maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 environment for an MCSE certified on Windows 2000
    This covers the same objectives as core exams 70-293 and 70-294 in a two-for-one format that takes only 90 minutes and costs the same as other MCP exams.

For many MCSA and MCSE candidates nearing the end of their programs, these exams make it affordable and straightforward to step up to Windows Server 2003. For those of you who already hold these credentials, Microsoft's upgrade plan is a no-brainer that you can -- and should -- complete at your discretion.

Specialization programs

For Microsoft's specialization programs in security and messaging, upgrading is somewhat trickier. Though standard upgrade exams will apply, Microsoft hasn't yet announced what other requirements it will levy on those seeking to migrate these specializations from Windows 2000 to Windows Sever 2003. I'm guessing it will involve at least one more exam for MCSAs, and at least two more for MCSEs, given minimal overlap between exams for both programs. If you're starting on Windows 2000 specializations, I advise you to compare the Win2k and Windows Server 2003 requirements. Pick overlapping exams wherever possible to minimize future upgrade requirements.


Ed Tittel is a regular contributor on certification topics for numerous TechTarget sites, and a contributing editor and columnist for Certification Magazine. He also developed and still edits the Exam Cram 2 series of certification prep books.


This was first published in September 2003

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