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A Guide for Newbies

The most frequent question that we get from people is this: "Hi, I am a construction worker(or janitor, banker, donut maker - it doesn't matter) and I want to know how to go about getting my MCSE? How beneficial will it be and how much money can I make? We have answered this question so many times that it made sense to make this guide for newbies. Before we get started, we need to clarify a few things. Microsoft recommends the MCSE certification for those that have been working in the field for at least 1 year. If you are currently working in another industry, we highly recommend that you acquire an IT job first, then start thinking about certification after you have been employed for 6 months to a year. If you have not already done so, you may want to consider getting your A+ certification first.

Don't Underestimate The Power Of The Darkside
Before you consider doing this, consider the fact that these tests are difficult and that some people lose their hair and develop ulcers trying to pass them. Next, consider the fact that it costs money to do this. The tests are $125 every time you take them, a good book is generally at least $40 and classes are outrageous, although financial aid might be available to you. You will need to be able to budget somewhere between $500-$10,000+ to get through this and you will need hours and hours of time that you are probably all ready running short on. Still interested?

Where Do I Start?
This is the hardest question to answer as nobody can really answer this for you, so I always respond with more questions. How technical are you by nature? How much computer experience do you currently have? How quickly do you learn?. Be honest with yourself in your self-assessment, because you are going to have to make an important choice. You will need to decide if you will go the self-study route or get professional help. Most of those who already work in the industry use the self-study method. If you have never taken an exam before, then we would recommend a class for at least the first exam. When looking for a class to take, make sure that it is part of the Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) and if possible see if you can get a class with hands on training. For more information on classes, read the article titled, Don't Take a Training Class Until You Read This! written for us by Michael DeBussy of MCSE Tutor. You should also check with your current employer to see if they will cover the cost of the exam and your training. Many companies do cover these items for their employees.

Tools That You will Need
Now it is time to spend some of that hard earned money and get the tools that you will need to pass the exams.

  1. Training materials - For more information on this go to our Training Directory. This directory contains many popular certification books and training products that you can read more about and visit the manufacturer's web site. While there are a ton of free practice exams and study guides available on the internet, these should be used as a supplement to professional books, CBTs, practice test software, etc.
  2. Good websites - You will want to bookmark as many MCSE sites like ours that have free information, study guides and tests. Avoid braindump sites like the plague. Do this the right way or not at all.
  3. Access to a network- This is one of the most important things that you will need, and it doesn't have to be as expensive as it sounds. Below, we will show you how to set one up at home for cheap.
  4. Plenty of study time - Make sure that you give yourself enough time to learn the material and take practice exams before taking the real test.
Building Your Computer Lab
You will need at least 2 computers networked to get started. We know that sounds like a huge investment, but there are ways to keep the costs down. It is probably a good idea to get at least one decent computer as you will probably be using it for other things. There are several ways to save money on new or newer computers. You can build it yourself which is a skill that you should have if you are planning on being an MCSE. This can be done less expensively by getting the components or even the whole computer online at sites such as Another option is checking out reallocation departments. Most major corporations have reallocation departments that get rid of all of there older computer equipment. The term older is relative as you should be able to get a decent computer on the cheap if you do your homework. In order to cut down on the number of computers that you need to buy, you can also multi-boot them.

You can obtain free 120 day evaluation copies of many of Microsoft's products. You can either get them from Microsoft, or they are sometimes bundled with the text book that you buy.

If computer equipment is too expensive for you, there are alternatives. You can purchase a product called VMWare which allows you to install multiple operating systems on one computer and actually switch back and forth between them. You can even network them and have an entire network running on 1 computer.

How Much Money Will I Make?
It really depends. If you don't take our advice and get certified with no experience, you will be known as a "Paper MCSE". While your certification may help you get a job, it may also hurt you as well. Regardless, be prepared to accept a low paying job to start. You will have to work your way up just like any other industry. For those of you that are already in the IT industry, you may find that the certification will allow you to access certain positions that require an MCSE or make a jump to the next level in your current orginization. For more information about compensation, go to our career center and check out the salary survey links and search the job database and see what is out there.

Hopefully that is enough to get some of you going on the right track. If you have questions go ahead and post them in our forums and either myself or a kind internet neighbor will post a reply for you.