Every time Microsoft unleashes a new set of exams and upgrade requirements for its credentials, there's inevitably a period of overlap during which the older, existing program coexists with the newer, often still-emerging program. In the wake of Microsoft's announcements of February 17 and the various new and upgrade exams for Windows Server 2003, I've been swamped with questions about both programs that can be briefly summarized as: "Should I complete my current certification on Windows 2000, or wait and start over with Windows 2003 exams?"
Like most interesting and real questions in this world, the first two words of my answer are "that depends..." Here are some of the things you should consider when deciding if you are in the "stay with Windows 2000" or "switch to Windows Server 2003" camp:
- Degree of completion: If you've taken more than three or four exams for MCSE, or two or more exams for MCSA, it's less work to finish on the 2000 path than to switch to 2003, even factoring in upgrade exam requirements. You should consider jumping to the 2003 path only if you're not very far along on the 2000 path.
- Partner requirements: Development organizations, training companies, resellers, and other Microsoft partners are usually the first to obtain newer certs--and then, primarily because Microsoft requires them to do so. At this point, Microsoft hasn't announced upgrade date requirements for such partners, and the year 2003 programs are now in full swing. The earliest such requirements are likely to hit, therefore, is in 2004. This argues that partner candidates who can finish 2000 certs in 2003 should finish now and take the upgrade exams next year.
- Platform adoption: Only early adopters, development organizations, or other companies who lead the charge into new Microsoft platforms will typically adopt a new operating system in the first 12 to18 months after its release. If you work for such an outfit, you'll probably want to certify under Windows Server 2003 auspices, or upgrade existing Windows 2000 credentials as soon as possible.
- Study support tools: Early exam takers are typically those who already know the technology and who don't really need support from aftermarket tools like courseware, books, study guides and practice exams. However, for most ordinary IT mortals, there is a lot to gain from the shared experience and usable study materials that will be available anywhere from six to 12 months after the exams are released.
Given that MCSA exams for Windows Server 2003 won't be out until July or August, and the equivalent MCSE exams won't be ready until September or October, it's not really possible to get started on these credentials until late summer anyway. Since most MCSEs take six to 12 months to complete the entire slate of exams, and MCSAs typically take four to six months, we won't really see appreciable numbers for Windows Server 2003 certifications until some time in 2004. To me, this makes a peculiar kind of sense because the year a product is released is seldom the same year that related certifications really take off. Hopefully, these words will help you decide which track to plan for in the year ahead.
Ed Tittel runs a content development company in Austin, Texas, and is the series editor of the Que Exam Cram 2 and Training Guide series. He's worked on many books on Microsoft, CompTIA, CIW, Sun/Java, and security certifications.