Certification is by no means mandatory for system or network administrators, but is often judged useful by its holders and desirable by employers. Among relevant certs for Windows professionals, the MCSE has long been a reasonably well-regarded credential. That said, Microsoft has created a new two-tiered cert program for technical specialists and IT professionals (MCTS and MCITP respectively) and within 18 months there will be new credentials for Windows Vista in both tiers. Unless you plan to certify quickly (and soon) you may be better served by waiting for and certifying on the new Vista credentials, rather than earning the MCSE and then having to upgrade to some equivalent MCITP credential in 2007 or 2008. That said, if you current or target employers use Windows Server 2003 and probably won't upgrade to Vista Server before 2008 or 2009, earn the Windows 2003 MCSE now and plan to upgrade when the opportunity presents.
Thanks for posting, and good luck with your career planning and development.
This was first published in February 2006