An ambitious IT pro asked us on Twitter: "Which exam would you recommend for someone moving over from Comptia A+ and Net+?" MCT Ed Baker responds with the key differences between CompTIA and Microsoft certifications, and charts a roadmap for a smooth transition to MCSA and MSCE certifications. If you'd like to connect with Ed for more advice, please leave a comment or check out his Born to Learn profile.
The world of IT certification is a minefield of disinformation and confusion when it comes to where to start and what path to take. There are many good reasons to choose one way or another. It would take many more than my allotted space to do justice to the subject but here goes!
CompTIA provide a series of vendor neutral examinations based primarily on technology rather than a specific product. As an example, the often ignored Server+ deals with Linux and Windows Servers and the technologies supporting both platforms. All vendors provide examinations based on one or more of their products which may or may not include generic technology topics as well.
CompTIA A+ is a traditional starting point for many to launch an IT career and it follows that they then continue on the CompTIA path. CompTIA is a not for profit organisation with members including Cisco, Dell and Microsoft all focussed on raising the skill levels of IT industry employees.
Most of Microsoft’s certification tests are based on one or more of their products specifically and are aimed at a number of levels of skill.
Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA)
The Microsoft Technology Associate programme (MTA) is aimed at college students and entry level IT industry employees. Originally only available to students, it is now available in the commercial market through Prometric test centres. The tests are typically 45 minutes long and contain around 35 questions. Predominantly multiple choice and fairly short in content. This is an excellent way for a non-IT employee to break into the Microsoft Certified Professional arena. There are currently twelve certifications that include, Networking, Security, Servers, Operating Systems, Databases, and software development in various flavours. These are the only Microsoft tests that are not solely product-based. More detail about the MTA programme and available examinations can be found here.
Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)
The next level is the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) This certification typically requires two or three examinations and is available for a specific product, for example the MCSA Windows Server 2012 requires three and the MCSA Windows 8 requires two. Currently there are three product areas Server, Client and SQL server. There is not enough space to list them all and their merits but the programme details can be found here. Examinations at this level can contain a wide variety of different question types and can vary from 90 minutes to well over 3 hours long in some cases. Some discussion and demonstrations of question types can be found here--look for Exam Formats and question types.
Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)
At the top of the tree for the mere mortal IT Pro is the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE). This certification has a prerequisite of MCSA in a product area and then a couple of additional examinations. These certifications are not single product based but can examine a whole area of technology, but always using Microsoft products. There are no Product titles or version numbers in these qualifications. The other major difference is that to maintain this certification you are required to take an examination every three years to re-certify. The MCSE Programme details are here. There are currently eight MCSE certifications in specific industry areas such as Communications, Messaging or Server Infrastructure and each relates to a series of product solutions within the Microsoft portfolio.
So that is the Microsoft certification portfolio, almost; there are some developer specific certifications which can be found here. The Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) programme is definitely the one to take if you are interested in a career in software development and is on a par with the MCSE programme for certification level.
So if John is not a developer, where should he start?
Without knowing if John is already in an IT role, it is difficult to make such decisions on his behalf, but his exam history does help a little to determine what his proven skills are.
Having taken the CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+ certifications which include three long detailed tests, I would recommend that John goes straight for the relevant MCSA for his technology specialism. Let’s assume that John has experience with Windows Servers and wants to become a Server administrator or equivalent. The exams he needs to take are the 70-410, 70-411 and 70-412 (details here) these are for the Windows Server 2012 track which is, in my opinion the one he should start on. The most recent relevant certification is often the one an employer is looking for.
Born to Learn is full of exam tips and tricks and I recommend that John concentrate hard on both exam technique and study. There are a great many differences between the exams in CompTIA and Microsoft certifications. When I teach CompTIA topics I am often heard explaining that there is nothing difficult to learn in this, but there is an awful lot to learn. The exam requires a very good level of memory recall. There are no long questions or answers it is simply multiple choice and the recently added simulation questions. For example the difference between processor types and sockets requires a lot of learning.
Microsoft examinations are a whole new level of test and the item types again (detail here) are completely different. They often require a lot of reading and assimilation of information to provide the solution. For this reason there are far fewer questions in each test and the answers often require a long time to think about so the tests are longer too.
Whichever you decide, good luck and if you need any help choosing the community of some 20,000 Microsoft Certified trainers (MCT) will always be happy to offer helpful advice and guidance on a route through this minefield.
Click to download the certification roadmap poster (PDF)
About the Author:
Ed Baker is an MCT, MCSE, MCSA and holds CompTIA A+, Net+, Server+, Security+ and many other certifications. Ed teaches in Microsoft IT academies and at commercial learning partners. Ed is a 20 year veteran of the IT industry and in his spare time he raises money for good causes through Freemasonry and marathon running.
Nice Article T thanks
But, it has an error , the path for Server And Database are the same, but different in results!
Sorry Shoeyb I dont understand that comment - the paths for each track are shown in the graphic. Server and Database are very different. I didnt cover every one in detail due to word limits.
Nice article indeed. I've had the same question bugging me for a while and really could not figure out what to start with as everything was a blur. In my case I only have CompTIA A+ and have a keen interest in the server path. however, what would you recommend between MCSA: Windows Server 2008 and MCSA: Windows Server 2012 from a professional point of view.
Sorry for the delay. The reply went into my junk mail!
I would definitely study the latest product, especially as free evaluation versions are available to allow you to practice with the technology.