Choosing an area of certification is challenging, but we have a few suggestions. First, earn a couple of different entry-level certifications before pursuing a full-blown certification such as the MCSE. Some of the entry-level certifications that you might pursue include CompTIA’s A+ or Network+ Certifications, the Microsoft Certification Professional (MCP) certification, and the CCNA.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
Once you complete these exams, ask yourself which of them you enjoyed the best and concentrate on that area of IT.
Unfortunately, most people decide to pursue their entire MCSE/CCIE/CNE before passing one exam (or sometimes before cracking a single book). The problem with this strategy is that you might get halfway into the track and find out that you really don't care for it. A much better strategy is to have a broader view of what's available before spending a ton of time and money on any one vendor's certification.
Another good strategy is to gain solid experience in the field before pursuing any certifications. You probably won’t find a job that lets you do some Microsoft, some Cisco, and some programming. However, you will still start to learn more about the differences between these areas. Furthermore, you'll be exposed to other people in your company who specialize in these areas. This exposure gives you the opportunity to see what they do on a daily basis and to find out more about what they like and don't like about their job.
In the end, you will be happier in an area of IT that you like rather than pursuing an area of IT simply because it “pays well.” Do some research and find out whether you would rather be a developer or a network administrator. Time spent figuring out what you like to do can mean thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours saved when you pursue a certification that you'll never get much benefit out of.