Friends described Cates as a charismatic person who had close ties to his family and friends. He did his undergraduate work at MIT, where he lived at German House. He studied computer operating systems and was most recently a student in the PhD program with Professor M. Frans Kaashoek of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Cates was on leave to work as a software engineer with VMware of Palo Alto, Calif., friends said.
According to the Bismarck Tribune, Josh was a passenger in the back seat of an automobile driven by his younger sister. At about 8 a.m., she lost visibility in icy and snowy conditions, and slowed the automobile, a 1986 Audi, to a near stop. The car was rear-ended by a 2000 Freightliner truck. The driver told the patrol that he attempted to swerve but was unable to avoid the vehicle, and was not charged in connection with the accident. Lea was treated for injuries and released. The freightliner driver was not injured. All three were wearing seatbelts.
In 1998, Cates started a company called Exotec (later called Vividon, and now part of Starbak Communications) with Thomas Pinckney III ’97, Douglas K. Wyatt ’97, and Russell T. Hunt ’97. The company worked on high-performance video servers for video streaming. Cates finished his SB in course 6-3 in 2001, while still working part-time at Vividon, said Kaashoek, who was also Cates’ undergraduate advisor.
“Operating Systems was Josh’s major love in CS,” Kaashoek said. “He loved dealing with the most complex pieces of code.” Cates was respected in Kaashoek’s research group for his brilliance, Kaashoek said, and was also an “incredibly nice guy.”
“He won arguments not by shouting or throwing keyboards around, but by carefully chosen reasoning, generally accompanied by a joke or funny comment,” Kaashoek said.
Fall of 2002 saw the first offering of 6.097, Operating System Engineering, now 6.828. The class was created by Cates, Kaashoek, and Emil Sit G. Cates wrote the codes for the labs that first year. Those labs are still used this fall, and Kaashoek said that a “generation of MIT students are going to take 6.828 and be working with code that [Josh] partially wrote.”
During his undergraduate studies, Josh managed to spend time in Germany and the Middle East, and studied languages including German, Spanish, and Arabic. Following his graduation from the MEng program in Course 6, he lived in Barcelona, Spain with his sister, Lea. Josh explained to a friend that, though operating systems were fascinating, he wanted to explore the world.
A funeral service was held Saturday, Jan. 10 in Bismarck.
Cates is survived by his parents Steve and Cathy, his sisters Lea, Rosanne, and Angela.
Donations in Cates’ name may be made to the Bismarck High School Science Olympiad, c/o Steven Cates, 3521 Highway 1804 South, Bismarck, ND 58504.