This is what I did in about 2 or 3 years of programming, from nothing to employed at a kick ass company.
tl;dr is that I just worked on things over time that I felt to lazy to do myself, or things that interested me, and got going.
When I started out the only library I think I was using was requests and beautifulsoup for making a bunch of web requests. Scraping reddit and downloading wallpapers automatically. I started off wanting to learn how to make a game, so I made a little roguelike in libtcod, which really taught me a bunch of stuff about Python, since I was motivated, and the tutorial on RogueBasin is fantastic.
After a little while of making little scripts like a sleeptimer, I tried making a music player, because I was sick of WMP’s poor shuffling, and Winamp didn’t respect my media keys and since I was on XP at the time, didn’t have that sweet toolbar integration that WMP did. I then moved to working with the Imgur and reddit APIs downloading even more images, making things like detecting if a user has any posts on gonewild and other creepy stuff like that.
I wanted to get back into gamedev, so I learned PyGame to make a topdown shooter but wasn’t happy with the performance (which I now realize is probably due to the way I designed it rather than Python’s fault) but then learned C# because I wanted to make a game on the xbox using XNA.
From there I made a site like abetterqueue.com in C#s ASP.NET MVC4, learning about web development proper, like how to do anything in HTML, CSS and JS. I also made a few Chrome extensions using that JS knowledge, like one that scrapped Steam for the account history to get an accurate total of the money you’ve spent on your games, before that was integrated into Steam, an extension to count down from when you get into work and pop up 8 hours later and most recently an extension that tweaks Project Free TVs site to make it a bit more readable.
A few years ago I learned how to use vim because I’m super lazy and want to speed up doing everything I do, and I love the idea of getting better at navigating text as I get better at programming.
Last summer I decided I want to do a proper game, to learn C++, a language I always thought was one of those things that a real could do, sorta like how you can’t call your self a car enthusiast without being able to drive stick. So far it’s been a blast, and I’ve got a kick ass site dedicated to the game. It’s actually in the same library that I used to learn python, which is fun.
This all sounds like a lot, now that I’ve laid it out, but its a pretty standard experience for a lot of programmers to just tinker with things they want to play around with, or to automate some things they do every day. I don’t think there’s a fast track to getting employed other than simply working at it day by day.