Thursday, July 25, 2024

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 benificial 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.

In July of 1999 the Department of commerce released a report regarding the future of the IT industry in America. If you are considering getting into the IT industry, I would highly recommend that you read this, even if you live outside the U.S. The document is quite long (132 pages) and is in PDF format. I would suggest that you print it out and read it in your spare time, unless you enjoy staring at computer screens for hours at a time like I do. The document is located here.

“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 $100 every time you take them, a good book is generally at least $50, and classes are outrageous. You will need to be able to budget somewhere between $1000-$10,000 to get through this. You will need hours and hours of time that you are probably already running short on. You will need to be prepared to forget about finding the man or woman of your dreams. If you are already attached, you will need to prepare for lots of fighting and insults as to what a geek you are. 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 do the self-study thing. 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.

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. Textbook – For more information on this go to our MCSE bookstore. This is our bookstore and it should give you a good idea as to which study guide you ought to get.

    2. Practice tests – After you have read your book and made notes for yourself, you will need to practice. The most popular practice tests are the Transcenders.

    They are ungodly expensive but worth it as the questions are very similar to those on the actual exam and will prepare you for the types of questions that you will encounter. If you can’t afford these, there is a wealth of free questions and exams available out there. You can find a good number of these in the links section and study guides on this site. Avoid braindumps like the plague. Do this the right way or not at all.

    3. Good websites – You will want to bookmark as many MCSE sites like ours that have free information, study guides and tests. Again, links to these can be found at this site.

    4. 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.

Building Your Computer Lab
You will need at least 2 computers connected via ethernet in order to get started. We know that sounds like a huge investment, but there are ways to keep the costs down. You can pick up a couple of old 486 computers for dirt cheap in the paper, at a pawn shop or even online. While NT 4.0 and Windows 98 aren’t blazingly fast on a 486, it will work. If you are preparing for the Windows 2000 exams then you will need better hardware than a 486. Go here for installation requirements. It is probably a good idea to get at least one decent computer as you will probably be using it for other things. [Note: for under $300 each, systems that are capable of running Windows 2000 can be found at -Jay] There are several ways to save money on new or newer computers. You can build it yourself – its not as hard as it sounds and it can be done less expensively by getting the components or even the whole computer at online auctions such as or If that idea is too scary then try this. 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.

OK…Once you get your computers, you will need a few other things to build your network. If the computers that you bought don’t have network cards, then you will have to buy and install them. Next, you will need a hub, which most computer stores will carry, and you will need 2 10baseT cables (assuming that the network cards on your computers have RJ-45 connections). Then you will want to install NT Server on one machine and then either Windows 98 or NT Workstation on the other. If you are getting ready for the Windows 2000 track, then you will probably want to load Windows 2000 Server on one of the machines. “Where do I get this expensive software?” you ask. You can obtain free 120 day evaluation copies of almost all of Microsoft’s products. You can either get them from Microsoft, or they often will be bundled with the textbook that you buy. It is a good thing for newbies to have a 120 day limit, because you will have to reinstall it which is good practice.

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.

Well, hopefully that is enough to get some of you going on the right track. If this has helped you or there is information that you feel is missing, please email us. If you have questions go ahead and post them at MCSELive! and either myself or a kind internet neighbor will post a reply for you.

Good Luck!

MC MCSE is a popular computer certification website devoted to providing free learning materials to candidates pursuing Microsoft, CompTIA and Cisco certifications. To access these resources visit

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