Optimization is the act of improving a method or design. In programming, optimization usually takes the form of increasing the speed of an algorithm, or reducing the resources it requires. Another meaning of optimization is numerical optimization algorithms used in machine learning.

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Jonathan Blow of “The Witness” fame likes to talk about just typing the obvious code first. Usually it will turn out to be fast enough. If it doesn’t, you can go back and optimize it later. His thoughts come in the context of working on games in C/C++. I think these languages, with modern incarnations of their compilers, are compatible with this philosophy. Not only are the compilers very mature but they are low level enough that you are forced to do things by hand, and think about what the machine is doing most of the time, especially if you stick to C or a ‘mostly C’ subset of C++. However in most higher level languages, there tend to be performance traps where the obvious, or idiomatic solution is particularly bad.