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Microsoft Certification Guide: MTA, MCSA, MCSE & MCSD

By Alex Bennett, Firebrand Training

Alongside demand for IT roles, a shortage of digital skills and the rise of IT apprenticeships in the UK, the number of people beginning their journey into IT is rising.

If you’re among them, you’ll be aiming to build a portfolio of qualifications that will help land your next (or first) job. However, if you’re new to IT there’s a daunting number of qualifications available. It can be challenging to find the right one for you.

For those pursuing a career in IT, your first experience is likely to be in first and second line support where technical skills mix with troubleshooting and customer service.

As your experience grows, you may progress into second and third line support as your skills become more technical and strategic, focusing more on the bigger picture technologies and less on individual end users.

Alternatively, you may start to specialise in areas like databases, storage, cloud, networking, development, security or management.

Microsoft offers three tiers of certifications that follow and boost your skills throughout your career. Wherever you aim to take your career, a Microsoft certification can support you on your journey. But which one should you choose?


Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) Certifications

If you’re new to the IT industry – or you’re working in first- and second-line support - the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certifications are ready to support you.

Each MTA certification is tailored to a different area of IT and covers topics like server, networking, security, databases and software development.

“These courses do a great job filling in knowledge gaps and are even useful for experienced professionals. I’ve interviewed people with five years’ experience working in technical support who would still benefit from attending an MTA course,” says Richard Keep, Microsoft Instructor at Firebrand Training.

“The MTA provides a thorough foundation for those looking to move on towards qualifications that are more technical. It’s a great way of learning masses of prerequisite knowledge.”

“I call these the “What?” courses, in that by the end of the course, when a student is sat in a meeting discussing aspects of the companies network, they can understand all the acronyms that are being used by the senior members of their team as well as understanding how these technologies all work.”

Each MTA course also acts as a fantastic introduction to the next stage of the Microsoft’s certifications, the legendary Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA).

“As a Microsoft instructor, I see far greater success rates for students attempting the MCSA-level certifications that have previously sat the MTA exams as they already have a basic level of understanding that is the prerequisite for higher level qualifications,” adds Richard.


Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) Certifications

If MTA is the ‘What’, an MCSA certification is the ‘How’. You’ll start to get your hands dirty doing configurations of the technologies in more and more complicated environments.

The exams at MCSA-level are based on supporting technical issues and understanding the configuration of services and roles.

To achieve an MCSA, you must pass multiple exams and at this stage you can start to focus on areas of IT that interest you.

Originally, the MCSA certification was focused on Windows Server and Client operating systems; now Microsoft offers a huge range of MCSA tracks, reflecting the huge range of technologies that we have to work with these days. There’s even an MCSA in Linux on Azure!


Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer / Expert (MCSD & MCSE) Certifications

The third level of Microsoft Certification is the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) or the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD).

Just like the MCSA, Microsoft offers various flavours of MCSE, including Business Applications, Cloud Platform & Infrastructure, Data Management and Analytics, Mobility, and Productivity.

Currently, there is just one MCSD qualification; the MCSD: App Builder is aimed solely at application and web developers.

At this level, there is as much in the exams about the design of the services as there is about their configuration.

“I see these as the ‘Why?’ certifications. It’s all very well understanding how to set up a DNS server, or how to deploy Azure AD, but why is your business doing this?  Why do we need a DNS server in that office?  Why do we need Azure AD? Are there any other technologies we could be implemented to support our network or make it easier to manage?” adds Richard.

To reflect the ever-changing world of technologies, the MCSE certifications last for three years - and MCSD just two years - before needing to be updated. This ensures anyone certified as an MCSE or MCSD must keep their skills up to date.


What’s next?

Once you’ve learned the what, how and why what’s next?  If you’ve conquered the Microsoft track, and you’re able to confidently maintain your certifications, you may consider expanding your knowledge even further.

You might consider specialised project management or security management qualifications to bolster your impressive resume. But remember, Microsoft continues to release new certifications to align with new skills and technologies – and it pays to upgrade your skills.