If you’re just starting out in the world of IT, or if you’ve been in IT for a while and are now looking for get certified, a Microsoft certification is a great place to start.

There are two broad branches of Microsoft certification, MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist) and MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional), and I want to help you understand the difference between these two options.

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MCTS certifications allow you to target specific technologies in the Microsoft set. Once you pick your speciality, you will have to show that you can successfully implement, build on, troubleshoot, and debug a particular Microsoft technology in order to get certified. MCTS certifications are offered for technologies like Windows O/S, Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft SQL Server, Windows Vista and Microsoft Visual Studio.

Examples are SQL Server 2008, .NET Framework 3.5, .NET Framework 2.0, Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server and a few more. There are version-specific exams that you have to take (for SQL Server 2005 versus 2008, and so on).

With the MCTS, you show yourself to have depth of knowledge in one specific technology. If you work with multiple technologies, you can earn additional MCTS certifications to show breadth across different products. You can also build on the MCTS to earn a MCITP certification.

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The MCITP credential lets you highlight your field of professional expertise, and take it up a notch.

The MCITP is about the job. The MCITP certifications validate that you have important professional skills such as design, project management, operations management, and planning, and they are contextual to the job role. By validating a more comprehensive set of skills than the MCTS, the MCITP give candidates and hiring managers a reliable indicator of on-the-job performance.

The MCITP categories are based on our (current or aspiring) job role: Database Administrator, Enterprise Messaging Administrator, Enterprise Support Technician, Enterprise Administrator, Server Administrator, Consumer Support Technician, Database Developer and so on. To earn an MCITP, you’ll need over two years of relevant job experience. Typically, a MCITP credential requires that you pass one to two exams and have one or more MCSE certifications.