MICROSOFT CERTIFICATIONS FOR HELPDESK/ADMINISTRATORS
Since there's apparently some confusion, I'm posting this in hopes that it'll be referenced as a single point of explanation for MS certification. This post will be kind of long, but I'm going to just link the pages on the MS site that give the relevant information, rather than list off all the exams needed to earn a certification.
I'm going to try to avoid saying things like "don't do this cert" or "get this cert instead", as it's VERY difficult to say for certain that what is asked for on jobs I want might not be what's asked for in jobs others want. I will, however, say that MCP and MCSE are the two most common certifications listed on job postings. Also, MCSE is (mostly) the design side, whereas MCSA is (mostly) the administration side, but there's generally a lot of overlap, and most job postings seem to think MCSE is better than MCSA... which is sort of right, I'll explain why further on in this post.
All certification titles should be clickable links to the Microsoft Learning page with the relevant information for each certification.
The stuff below is relevant to Windows Server 2003, which is the most common Windows Server platform currently in deployment. The focus of this post is on the system administrator side of things, which, if you're a DBA or programmer (or want to become one), probably isn't terribly interesting. The Find Microsoft Certification by Technology page lists off exactly what it says: all the current MS certifications, grouped by technology. The exams to earn each of those certifications are listed on the pages that detail each certification, just follow the links.
MCP stands for Microsoft Certified Professional. It means you've passed ANY current Microsoft exam for ANY technology on ANY "certification track (be it MCDST, MCSA or MCSE). Generally, this is probably one of the Core client OS exams, but again, it could be any current MS exam.
MCDST stands for Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician, and consists of TWO exams. This cert WILL count toward MCSA/MCSE certification, HOWEVER, it's two tests that only count for ONE ELECTIVE EXAM on those certification tracks. IT IS NOT REQUIRED TO HAVE MCDST TO GET TO MCSA OR MCSE. Because of this, it's a lot of work for little gain if you're going the MCSA/MCSE route relatively quickly, and you're probably better off taking one of the Core client OS exams listed on the MCSA or MCSE pages. Those tests will get you MCP status, as mentioned above.
MCSA is Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator. Assuming you go the straight-through route, it means you've passed FOUR exams: TWO Core networking, ONE Core client OS, and ONE Elective. MCSA is supposed to indicate a competency to handle day-to-day sysadmin tasks in a Windows environment.
MCSE is Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. Assuming you go the straight-through route on this one, it means you've passed SEVEN exams: FOUR Core networking, ONE Core client OS, ONE Core design, and ONE elective. MCSE can be thought of as MCSA with three more exams (two more Core networking, and the one Core design). MCSE is supposed to indicate the ability to design and build a network based on Windows Server 2003 systems. It covers the same stuff as MCSA, and then some, which is why it's considered better than MCSA.
Both MCSA and MCSE give you some choices: on MCSA/MCSE, you've only got to pass one of three Core client OS exams, which one you take is up to you. Also, you've only got to pass one of a couple doezen Elective exams. MCSE has a few more available elective exams than MCSA.
If you do something fancy, like get your A+ and Network+ certs, then that knocks off the elective for MCSA/MCSE. There's some others as well, check out the details here.
Generally, someone going for MCSE on Windows 2003 might take the XP client OS exam, giving them MCP status. Then they tackle the two Core networking systems exams and the one elective for MCSA. Add on the two additional Core networking systems exams and the Core design exam, and you've got an MCSE on your hands.
Again, that's all for Server 2003 stuff, which is still VERY common. Earning MCSE on 2003 and then upgrading to one of two Server 2008 equivalents will cover all the bases. The certifications for the Server 2003 generation of exams isn't planned for retirement as far as Microsoft says, so it's probably worth the effort to go that route right now. Here
is the upgrade path information.
In case anyone's wondering, there are equivalent certifications for Server 2008 to MCSA/MCSE 2003. MCITP: Sever Administrator
is basically the Server 2008 version of MCSA. MCITP: Enterprise Administrator
is basically the Server 2008 version of MCSE.
To add to the confusion of MS certifications, there's also things like MCSA: Messaging, MCSE: Messaging, MCSA: Security, MCSE: Security, developer (or programmer) exams and certifications, database exams and certifications... it goes on and on. The list is pretty long, but fortunately MS has been good enough to list the whole mess on one page, grouped by technology/topic: Microsoft Certifications