I deal with a lot of people who are just beginning their road to the MCSE. And the question that I hear from every one of them is "What should I do? Take the Windows NT 4.0 MCSE or the Windows 2000 MCSE?"
Here is some advice for those of you starting your Road to MCSE.
Don't Spend Money on NT Courses
Don't spend money on NT courses at this point if you're interested in certification. The NT core exams all retire Dec 31, 2000 and the MCSE earned in the NT track expires Dec 31, 2001. Many schools that don't have instructors qualified to teach Win2000 are trying to suck in as many students as possible now, who will have no chance of finishing all those core exams by the time they expire.
Get a Good Network Principles Foundation
A good MCSE training program for someone with no networking experience will be focused on Windows 2000, but will provide a basic networking block and an NT overview block for background -- you do need to know something about NT before you try to tackle Windows 2000. The exams for the latter are much more difficult and are aimed at people with two years of experience in a large network environment (200+ users, multiple physical sites).
Do You Need Formal Classroom Training?
I taught NT courses and now teach Win2000 courses at the community college level, but formal classroom training is not necessary to pass the exams (I never took one to obtain my MCSE). The quality of training programs varies enormously. Some folks need the structure of classes and others do better with self-study; evaluate your own learning style.
Some schools charge large tuitions (up to $20K) for programs of questionable quality with instructors whose skills are either weak or not up to date. Always ask to talk to former grads of the program before committing your money, and don't let a high-pressure recruiter talk you into signing up with a class before you have a chance to interview students, instructor and shop around.
Try Self-Paced Instruction
If you don't have the money for both classes and a home network, the latter is by far more important. You will never pass the Win2000 exams without hands-on experience. You can set up an excellent network that emulates the enterprise environment for less than what some training programs cost.
Get computers with AMD processors, since they are highly reliable, and having a better price/performance ratio than the Pentium brands. The majority of our networks run K-6's, Athlons and Pentium IIIs. There is virtually no performance difference and in most tasks the Athlons far out-perform the Pentium IIIs. (If you're into games, yes, the Pentium III is a better choice; presumably we're talking about a working network so that's not an issue).
After you put together your network, you'll need some good study guides. We'll do a comparative review in the future, but from what we've seen, the Syngress/Osborne Windows 2000 Study Guides overshadow all the other study guides. They have been put together especially for the self-paced learner, and they contain all the information, and all the practice you need to pass your Windows 2000 exams.
Are You a Career Changer?
My husband and I were career changers who had been computer hobbyists all our lives and switched to full time network consulting in the early 90's. He is a doctor (neurologist) and I was a college criminal justice instructor. In the last decade we have exceeded our previous income, are certified trainers and have written eleven books on computer networking. This is an industry that is very open to career changers if they are willing to work hard to keep on top of the ever-changing software/hardware issues.
Do You Have to be Certified?
Certification definitely makes a difference to some employers, less so to others. The job market also differs a lot geographically. The Dallas area where we live has a huge shortage of qualified IT personnel. We have had numerous students over the last two years who have been able to get jobs starting from $35K to $66K with no prior experience after passing one or more MCSE exams.
This is not guaranteed to everyone who passes an exam those students also possess other qualities (people skills, willing to take the initiative) that are important in getting a job in IT or most other industries.
For More Information
For more info on Microsoft certification see our certification website at www.tacteam.net. You'll also find links there to mailing lists we run.
For more info on Windows 2000, and the Syngress/Osborne Series of Windows 2000 Study Guides, check out Certification Emergency Room.
If you decide to pursue the MCSE, you might also want to consider joining the very popular saluki mailing list. See www.saluki.com/info.htm