My 2 cents on this is find dive shop that has been around for several years. The longer the better. This usually translates into a well run service oriented business. I got certified in the 90's and the shop is still around, ongoing instruction and new students are the life blood of a good shop in an area that might not be a diving destination. My shop happened to be an SSI shop and that is why I have an SSI certification. When it comes to gear I would say a regulator set up with primary and octopus would be the best first gear purchase and then a computer. If you travel they are easy to take along and you know the usage and maintenance history of them. Best of luck.