Is the CCNA course or MCSE course harder to take?
The CCNA requires passing a single, fairly challenging exam; the MCSE requires passing seven exams that range from somewhat challenging to more than fairly challenging (depending on your choices of electives). Thus, I must say that the MCSE is both more difficult and more expensive than the CCNA.
What are the major differences?
A simple, short answer is: CCNA concentrates on Cisco tools and technologies, MCSE concentrates on Microsoft tools and technologies. A more complex answer also takes into account that the Microsoft certs aim more at network and system administrators on a local/site level, while Cisco credentials tend to be infrastructure focused at the enterprise, telco, or ISP level. Take a look at my book "IT Certification Success" for more information on this topic.
And, which one would be better?
That depends on what you like best, what you want to accomplish, and where your career is heading. In terms of employability and pay, the MCSE is superior to the CCNA. But the CCNA can lead to more senior Cisco certifications that reverse the equation entirely. You must weigh their pros and cons and decide which one is best for you.
This was first published in February 2003