CXO

Build Your Skills: MCSA fills gap, strengthens MCSE

Understand the benefits of the MCSA certification


I stand by my prediction. Soon, MCSAs will outnumber MCSEs. More important, I don't think that's bad, despite some complaints I've seen on certification and IT Web sites, including TechRepublic.

Just as everyone graduating from college doesn't need to be a Ph.D., neither do all certified professionals need to be MCSEs or CCIEs. The MCSA designation deserves respect, as it fills an important niche between the MCP and MCSE designations. Think of it as the IT industry's equivalent of a nurse practitioner, who has more expertise than a registered nurse but a little less than a physician. When you're sick, you don't always need to see the doctor. Sometimes the nurse practitioner can see you, diagnose a less complicated problem, and recommend the appropriate remedy.

The MCSA fulfills an important role
I fear that those professionals criticizing the MCSA don't understand its role. In a recent TechRepublic article, some members voiced specific concerns. One worried that the MCSA devalues the MCSE accreditation, while another said it allows those who may not be capable of completing an MCSE to successfully complete an easier alternative, all the while feeding Microsoft's coffers.

Again, it's best to view the MCSA for what it is: a certification that fills the sizable gap between an MCP and MCSE. Before you flame me with comments suggesting I'm a Microsoft shill, consider the following:
  • Not every IT manager wants or needs an MCSE to administer servers and support clients on a network. The design exams weren't left off the list of required core MCSA exams by mistake.
  • There's no requirement that every network administrator understand how to design elaborate networks. Certainly, not all network administrators need to demonstrate their expertise designing elaborate networks on each server platform Microsoft releases, either. If you proved those skills one platform ago, is it really necessary to start over completely from scratch? Of course it's not.

The MCSA increases the value of an MCSE
If you require design expertise, and those skills are important to your success, you can continue training. That's where the MCSE provides added value. The design exams are a required component of that accreditation.

But factoring in how often new platforms are now being released by Microsoft, it's clearly unrealistic to expect someone to maintain an MCSE on every platform. In a difficult economy that's forcing organizations to manage multiple tasks and objectives with fewer resources, IT professionals are already in danger of burning out. If you're going to regularly add several tests to the load they're carrying, it makes sense to ensure that they'll be certifying on topics they'll use in the enterprise. If design skills aren't necessary, why require them?

Further, many IT professionals like to earn other certifications to ensure that their expertise isn't confined to a single vendor or platform. You shouldn't have to choose between a CCIE or MCSE. Now you can demonstrate significant expertise in both areas by earning CCNP and MCSA certifications, for example. Who would you rather have in your organization: an MCSE who knows nothing about Cisco routing and internetworking or a well-rounded MCSA who can also solve your Cisco networking problems?

Professionals who earn their MCSE will have a certification that has more value than the MCSA for at least two reasons. First, the number of MCSEs on the current OS platform will fall. Second, earning an MCSE requires greater expertise. If you've achieved that accreditation, you've proved your design skills.

The MCSA doesn't replace the MCSE. It simply fills the large gap between the MCP and MCSE, thereby solidifying the MCSE's perch high atop the Microsoft certification ladder.

Eckel's take
The MCSA isn't a replacement for the MCSE accreditation. It is quite the opposite. It's meant to help IT professionals demonstrate the specific expertise they most often use in the enterprise and to differentiate those who administer networks from those who design and administer them.

Considered in that light, it should come as no surprise then that 37 percent of respondents to a TechRepublic poll said the MCSA is just what they're looking for. While the MCSA certification isn't for everyone, it will be a great benefit for IT professionals who spend most of their time administering networks rather than designing them.

Editor's Picks